Dry weather lawn care: Follow some simple practices to maintain your lawn

Eloise Ogden/MDN Mowing grass around 4 inches high and mulching will help lawns suffering during a drought as well as other times.

Is your lawn suffering from the extended dry spell?

Ken Eraas, Ward County Extension horticulture assistant, said mowing lawns at 3 1/2 to 4 inches in height and mulching will help lawns during a dry spell but also at other times.

“People tend to want to mow their lawns quite short,” said Eraas.

He said mowing a lawn short heats up the lawn and the surface a lot quicker. “All of our lawn grasses are what’s called or termed cool season grasses. That is just what it says. They grow best when it’s cool. That’s why in the springtime they green up so nice and remain and as we get into the hotter days of July and especially August, you see them brown out if there’s not additional water put on them,” he said. He said they’re not dying, but are going dormant. “That’s nature’s way of taking care of them so they go dormant but by cutting a lawn the highest height setting for the lawn mower will benefit the lawn.

This, he said, shades the ground which keeps the roots cooler, the grass will remain actively growing and it helps hold moisture down. He said weeds also don’t start as easily in a well-shaded lawn.

“Mowing height has a number of advantages when you do it long,” he added.

He said people also should mulch grass clippings back into the lawn.

By doing this, he said they are not filling a landfill with perfectly good organic matter. “Organic matter is important in the soil for water-holding capacity. He said the mulched grass clippings will hold moisture in and keep the soil surface cool which will help keep the lawn looking nice. He said mulching will also provide nutrients.

Eraas said there’s really no reason to bag lawn cuttings.

“A lot of people will fertilize their lawns so they are thick, deep green and looking nice. You paid money for that – either for the fertilizer or if you paid someone else for the service of doing it. If you remove the grass cuttings, you just remove what you just bought,” he said.

He said mulching the organic matter back in has many benefits for keeping a lawn looking nice much more so in a drought but also at other times.

“Basically it makes your lawn care much simpler because you are not having to bag and then re-bag but it just makes for a much nicer lawn,” he said.

“If you are going to water, water at least half an inch when you do it,” Eraas said. He suggested measuring it with a rain gauge, pail or whatever is easy to use. But, he said, watering half an inch is much better than little short shots repeatedly,” he said.

He said some people have their sprinkler systems set so they go off every day. “You’re just wetting the top – that’s all you’re doing. You’re encouraging the plant to have shallow roots. If you’re gone from home and your irrigation system goes kaput, you’re going to come home to a brown lawn. But if you put half an inch down, it will go down deep and then the plant will follow and send its roots down to access that moisture and you’re building yourself a more drought-resistant lawn doing it that way,” he said. “That’s just a much better use of the water and it’s much better for your lawn.

Instead of watering the lawn every day just water half an inch perhaps once a week, he said. “And if you don’t have an underground system, you aren’t dragging hoses every day.”

“If you just do those two little things – recycling back and cutting tall – it’s definitely going to help your lawn look nicer, it’s going to cut down on your watering, it’s going to cut down on your fertilization needs, it’s going to cut down on your weed control and it’s going to give you more free time to spend doing the things you enjoy doing be it golfing or fishing or camping or gardening or whatever it is you do because you are not going to have to spend as much time doing those tasks that really aren’t necessary,” Eraas said.

Other benefits

of mulching

Trees and shrubs grow much better if they have a mulched area around them. The bigger the mulched area, the better the tree will row. wood mulch works very well. Spread at least 3 inches deep. It holds moisture, keeps the roots cool, discourages weeds, and keeps mowers and weed whips from damaging the lower trunk.

Mulching should also be used in perennial beds, fruit and vegetable plantings. It gives the same benefits to these as it does to trees and shrubs.

Perennial beds can be mulched with a smaller sized wood mulch to a depth of 2 inches. Small fruits and vegetable gardens can use straw, hay, newspaper, cardboard or other plant-based products.

Even when rainfall becomes more common, mulching should be maintained. It will give faster growth, less weeding and watering, and better production.

– From Ken Eraas, Ward County Extension horticulture assistant