Drought and Your Lawn

The western US is experiencing moderate to severe drought right now, and it is expected to get worse as we move into warmer months. March was California’s fifth consecutive month with below-average rain and snow, and reservoirs are below historical averages. Meanwhile, in Utah, the governor has declared a state of emergency as 90% of the state was under extreme drought in March. 

These aren’t the only states to face severe drought issues - Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico have also been hard hit, and have been experiencing severe to exceptional drought conditions since 2020, with little relief from winter rains. To round it all off, even the Great Plains states in North Central US are facing uncertain precipitation forecasts, warmer than normal temperatures, and water deficits. This is leading to concerns for everything from increased wildfire risks to limited water supply for crops and livestock (i.e. not great for any of us). 

We’re here to help guide you and your lawn care routine through this challenge. Together, we have all the tools and tips you’ll need to grow from this experience and keep that lawn beautiful for years to come.  

What Is Drought?

Drought is the prolonged lack of precipitation that results in a regionally specific water shortage. Drought is one of the most intense extreme weather events, but since it tends to creep up on us and build over time, it’s one of the most misunderstood or underestimated conditions.

What Causes Drought?

There are several different types of drought ecosystems can experience (sometimes simultaneously): 

  • Meteorological: when the region’s rainfall is less than expected over some time.
  • Agricultural: when there isn’t enough water in the soil, groundwater (underground lakes), or reservoirs to maintain crops and livestock.
  • Hydrological: this type of drought is based on depleted surface water (streams, lakes, rivers) and groundwater levels – but doesn’t account for water held in the soil.
  • Socioeconomic: brought on by overuse of water, this drought directly impacts people’s living behavior (e.g. washing cars, watering lawn, long showers, etc.) 
  • Ecological: drought stresses across ecosystems. 

What Is Causing The 2021 Drought?

A weak summer monsoon season mixed with a La Niña year has reduced rainfall. La Niña winters result in cooler than normal temperatures in the Pacific. The associated weather patterns move the jet stream – and associated precipitation – north. Lower than average snowpack through the western mountains also means drought conditions will likely extend (and worsen) throughout the spring and summer, as snowmelt will likely not be sufficient to cover water needs.

 

The current drought continues the pattern of a two-decades-long (2000-2018) megadrought in the region – the driest period on record in the southwest US since the late 1500s. This year, though, the drought extends even farther east towards the Great Plains.

 

How To Manage Drought Conditions

Many areas are likely going to face continued drought and potential restrictions on water use, particularly for irrigation. There are a few things you can do to help conserve water in your lawn:

 

#1 Train your lawn with strategic watering Deep and infrequent watering allows for water to move deeper into the soil profile, allowing grass to root deeper. How to implement: 

  • Implement a good watering schedule of 30 minutes, 2x per week.
  • It’s ideal to water for 10 minutes on, off for 20 minutes – 3x, rather than running for 30 minutes straight.
  • Water early morning or after dark (10 pm to 6 am). Mid-day heat means a lot of water evaporates before it works its way into the soil.

 

#2 Audit your irrigation system and fix any leaks to make sure it’s running at max efficiency. Think about zoning out areas that might need different irrigation amounts or frequencies. For example, shady areas usually need less water than grass in full sun.

  • Consider investing in a smart irrigation controller – many cities, counties, or water districts offer rebates to help offset costs, and with the water savings these controllers provide, they usually pay for themselves within a season or two anyway! 

 

#3 Manage your expectations for lush, green grass. Drought and heat-induced dormancy is your grass’s way of protecting itself. Our advice – let your grass go brown. Breaking dormancy by irrigating drains energy reserves within the plant. If conditions remain dry and hot, the plant won’t be able to replace those reserves. 

 

#4 Follow your local water restrictions to limit water use and always check with your local water provider for the latest drought information and water use regulations. 

  • Sunday Sustainability Tip: Even if your area isn’t enacting restrictions, cutting back on water use is an environmentally-friendly option!

 

#5 Reduce traffic on drought-stressed turf. The symptoms of drought stress will only speed up if heavy traffic persists. 

 

#6 Adjust your mowing game. Sharpen your mowing blades, reduce mowing frequency and increase mowing height to reduce turf stress, encourage root growth and help the environment by lowering your fuel emissions.

 

#7 Grasscycle. This practice doesn’t just return nutrients to your lawn, it also helps the grass retain moisture. 

 

For those (un)lucky lawns that got the double-whammy of the arctic outbreak followed by drought – be patient (easier said than done, we know)! Winter-damaged lawns are already facing slow green-up and drought conditions will likely cause some more setbacks. 

Sunday Can Help!

Soil: your soil is your own mini reservoir of water for your plants, so you should learn about your soil to find out if your soil type has the capacity for water storage (basically, how much water can your soil hold). 

Check your soil test results! Sandy soils hold less water, while clay-heavy soils and soils with high organic matter can hold on to more water, longer – so if your soil is pretty sandy, and you live in one of these drought-prone areas, your lawn is likely going to experience more drought stress this summer. 

Roots: At Sunday, we don’t oversupply nutrients like traditional lawn care programs. This is really important because if you over-apply nutrients (like Nitrogen), your grass will put up more top growth than root growth. Sunday does not overstimulate top growth. We simultaneously allow for top growth and root growth, allowing you to grow grass that roots deeper and is not only more self-reliant but better equipped during periods of moisture or drought stress. 

Nutrients: Your Smart Lawn Plan avoids dependency and “lazy lawn” status. By providing you with a soil test interpreted using MLSN and applying low rates of nutrients (including Nitrogen), we are supporting your lawn ecosystem, not making your grass reliant on fertilizer. What does that mean for your lawn? You guessed it. It will be more resilient during periods of drought or moisture stress

Grass: We don’t just provide nutrients, we’re providing you with a holistic approach to your lawn care routine. That means seed, too! At Sunday, we only provide the best variety of grass seeds that are certified for low input programs and water conservation. Again, making your grass less susceptible to impacts from heat and drought stress.

 

Sunday helps your lawn build resistance to stress. You don’t wake up one day and run the marathon – you have to train! So if you want plants to be drought-tolerant you want to condition them beforehand – our products have research-backed ingredients that will help your lawn handle heat and drought conditions better. Find out how with your Smart Lawn Plan from Sunday. 

Cited Sources

Earth Observatory. Drought Conditions Continue in Spring 2021. NASA

National Drought Mitigation Center. United States Drought Monitor. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.   

Nebraska Extension In Lancaster County. Lawn Care Tips to Save Water During Drought (drought). University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

UIUC Extension. Managing Lawns During Drought – Lawn Talk. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.