Thirsty Garden? Essential Tips for Lawn Care During Drought

Imagine if you went for several days without water.

You wouldn’t be feeling very well, would you?

That’s because there’s a good chance you’d be dead.

The same can be said for animals and plant life that needs water to live, survive and thrive.

And that includes the grass in our lawns, which needs all the help it can get to make it through those dry spells and long, hot summers.

Read on for essential tips for lawn care during drought, so your grass can bounce back from being parched.


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Lawn Drought Tips – Too Long, Didn’t Read

If you’re in a hurry, you might prefer a quick guide to this article, and so here it is. These are the main points we’re going to cover, below:

  • Preparing for the drought – irrigation, rain barrels, conserving water.
  • Watering – how much and how often.
  • Lawnmowing – general maintenance tips through a dry spell.
  • Dethatching – removing dead materials from your lawn surface.
  • Overseeding – the types of grass that are most drought-resistant – and the least.
  • Fertilizing – should you continue as normal? What are the best products to use?
  • After drought care – nursing your turf back to full health.

I highly recommend staying with us as we explore each point in more detail.

Drought Preparation

To get the jump on drought, it’s important that you try and prepare as much as possible before it hits. One of the most obvious prep steps is the collection of rainwater.

rainwater in black barrels

Take a look at this review of the best rain barrels on the market, and go here for tips and advice on how you can use rainwater effectively around your garden.

Remember, your region might have fixed irrigation limits during times of drought (or even an extended hot summer), and/or you might not be allowed to use water at all.

But collected rainwater doesn’t fall under those restrictions, so it’s a critical part of your preparation plans, especially if you want to continue watering your lawn during drought.

I highly recommend investing in and setting up a smart irrigation system, even for general use throughout the year.

Your lawn will always get exactly the amount of H20 it needs, adjusted for the conditions – and nothing is ever wasted. And for more eco-friendly lawn care tips – follow that link!

Use a soil amendment or organic fertilizer on your lawn before a dry spell – particularly if you have clay-based, or overly-sandy dirt.

A more balanced mix of the two is preferable, as loamy soil will retain water for longer, and will allow air to reach plant roots.

If you have clay or sandy soil, it’s also a great idea to practice a spot of aeration before a drought hits – to help loosen up the compacted dirt. Follow that link for our full guide on how to do it.

Drought Signs

Sometimes, we might not recognize we’re in a drought until it’s too late, and there’s something not quite right about the look and feel of our lawns.

dry grass in drought

The drought signs below might well be indicators that you need to take further action to protect the grass and other desirable plant life in your yard:

  • Wilting blades of grass and leaves.
  • Discoloration – darkening, and then browning/yellowing of anything green.
  • Brittle, “crunchy” leaves – a sure sign that blades of grass are dying, and the plant has entered dormancy to conserve water.
  • Slow or no growth at all.
  • Footprints remain marked when the grass is walked on – rather than bouncing back as it should – stay off the grass!

Drought Lawn Care

If you notice any or all of these drought symptoms, you need to follow some or all of the pointers, below.

But don’t panic! Discolored, brittle, or wilting grass blades doesn’t mean the grass is dead! It’s just entered a stage of dormancy, and is still alive and well under the surface.

We have more advice for after-drought lawn care coming up.

Drought Watering

Perhaps one of the most key factors when it comes to drought lawn care is in the watering schedule.

And there’s a balance to be had here, as in times of drought, hose-pipe bans might be in place, and/or you shouldn’t be using too much water, anyway.

But when you do give the grass a much-needed drink, be sure to turn the hose or sprinkler on only in the morning – to help reduce the amount that evaporates, and limit waste.

Set your alarm clock, and get into the habit of being an early bird if you aren’t already. Grass should be watered from 5 AM to 9 AM – although you can shoot for even earlier if you wish.

But how much should you water a lawn during drought?

man watering a green lawn

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there on this topic, but here’s my two cents:

Water no more than one inch per week, divided into two, 1/2-inch applications. The rule is to water deeply and infrequently, rather than short, shallow sessions that don’t do any good at all.

Follow this link for more general tips on watering a lawn – because most homeowners aren’t doing it right in the first place!

And you can also check out the video below, which is a visual guide on how to water your lawn during a drought.

Drought Lawnmowing

Cutting grass in drought conditions can be challenging. How often should you do it? What’s the best mower to use? Should you be mowing the lawn at all?

But there are some good practices you can get into in order to give your lawn the best chance of recovery through a tough season.

Keep your lawnmower blades sharp. Dull blades will rip and tear the grass, which will then use between 40-60% more water for repair. Get yourself a good lawnmower blade sharpener and keep it on hand.

And make sure you’re using the right lawnmower, too, while we’re at it. You’d be amazed at how many people have the wrong machine in their shed!

Use the 1/3-rule – never take more than 1/3 of the grass off during any single mowing session. This article on correct mowing heights will tell you more – but it’s especially important during times of drought.

mowing a green lawn

Remove the bag from your mower, and set it up for mulching instead. This article on the benefits of mulching has everything you need to know to mow.

Allowing the clippings to scatter back onto the lawn will help to keep the grass and soil shaded, as well as retain moisture and nutrients.

Avoid using heavy machinery, and consider a lightweight, walk-behind reel mower if you can. A great alternative is to invest in some “cutting edge” technology. Check out this article on robot mowers vs ride ons.

With a robot mower – you don’t even have to set foot on your lawn at all!

As a general rule of thumb, you should be mowing higher in summer than you do in any other season. If in doubt, let it grow for a while, up to maybe three to four inches – depending on the species.

Longer blades will help shade the soil, and keep sun damage to a minimum. And if you ever do let it get out of control for whatever reason, this article on how to cut tall grass will help you reign it in.

Drought Dethatching

Care must be taken when dethatching a lawn in times of drought, as it can easily add to the stress levels your grass is already experiencing.

However, a thick layer of thatch is going to prevent water and other vital nutrients from getting into the soil and down to the roots, so you’ll want to keep the dead material and debris to a minimum.

But there’s a fine balance, as aside from the extra stress, removing too much thatch can expose your lawn to the summer heat.

To check if your lawn needs dethatching, take a sample by removing material to a depth of about three inches. A simple soil sample probe can help, but a hand trowel will do.

lawn dethatcher closeup

If the thatch is over 1/2-inch thick, you should think about gently removing it.

For more information, read our complete guide to dethatching at that link. But remember – try to avoid using any heavy machinery/tools, and take care not to aggressively rake your lawn.

If you can, it’s a good idea to ensure the lawn is adequately dethatched before a drought hits – so perhaps this step is part of your preparation plan.

Drought Overseeding

Another step that is better in the preparation stage – is overseeding.

Adding new seed during a drought isn’t going to give it a snowball-in-hell’s chance of germinating, but if done in time, it can help the lawn through the dry spell.

And it’s also a very useful practice for when a drought has passed.

Overseeding is the process of adding extra seed to an existing lawn, in order to treat any bare spots, and damage, and/or to boost the amount of grass in the lawn to control weeds.

It’s an essential part of a month-by-month lawn care schedule, and you can follow that link for our full guide to annual lawn maintenance.

When overseeding, it’s a good idea to pay attention to drought-tolerant grass species, such as Bermuda grass, zoysia, and buffalo, and try to incorporate them into your lawn if you can.

Certain fescues are pretty good for drought resistance, too – like the tall, sheep, and hard varieties.

Avoid the likes of centipede grass, St Augustine, and perennial rye grass – which don’t fare so well when the temperatures rise, and the water dries.

Take a look at this article on the different types of grass seed for more information on the common grass species.

Drought Fertilizing

Fertilizing grass during drought can be a little tricky, and there are two schools of thought on this – do it, or don’t do it, and wait until the high temperatures have eased off.

It’s best to avoid synthetic fertilizers, particularly when it comes to using products that are high in nitrogen. Check out this article on the different types of fertilizer if you need a refresher.

You don’t want to risk chemically “burning” the grass anymore than it’s actually being burned! And trying to “wake it up” with a sudden shock of health boost will do more harm than good.

lawn fertilizer in bag

However, it’s a good time to apply light topsoil covering of organic fertilizer – or a compost tea formula you’ve made at home. Check out this article on DIY lawn fertilizers for more information.

A dry compost fertilizer is going to offer some protection to the grass blades, as well as providing a slow-release boost for getting nutrients into the soil as it breaks down.

Keep reading for advice on how to apply fertilizer after the drought has broken.

General Drought Tips

  • Do your best to stay off your lawn as much as possible – and that includes kids, pets, vehicles, or anything else that might damage it in its fragile condition. It’s under enough stress already.
  • Make sure you’re only watering areas that need it when you turn your faucet on. I’ve seen sprinklers giving a good ol’ soaking to sidewalks too many times to count.
  • Don’t be afraid to embrace dormancy. Allowing the grass to turn brown is a natural part of the process, and it will actually help the plant conserve water, giving it a better chance of survival.
  • Always adhere to local regulations when it comes to irrigation, and be responsible with your water use.

Post Drought Lawn Care

Your work doesn’t end when the drought does, and your lawn still needs care after the dry spell is over.

The question is – will grass grow back after drought?

Yes, is the short answer.

When the grass is dormant, the leaves will wither, dry up, change color and eventually die.

This is so the rest of the plant can conserve water, but the crowns, rhizomes and roots should be fine. They can take a bit more of a beating before they give up.

A drought will break when the first rains fall, and so your lawn will get a natural, much-needed drink.

But it’s important you continue to irrigate the lawn correctly, and that you don’t overwater.

Again, a smart irrigation system will help, but remember to water deeply but infrequently to promote healthy root growth, and to help your lawn return to the lush green it once was.

Try some overseeding in late September – after the full heat of summer should have passed (you never can tell these days). Overseeding will fill any bare spots you might have, and help prepare the lawn for winter.

And take care when fertilizing! You don’t want to rush the grass, so a slow-release formula of mainly organic matter is best used at this stage. Fast-acting synthetics should be avoided.

crabgrass in lawn


Long hot summers, high temperatures, and dry spells impart a lot of stress on almost every living organism – and we all can feel the heat!

But armed with some prior knowledge, you can follow these tips for lawn care during drought, and it should be enough to see your garden through.

Let us know if you have any tips for surviving the desiccation!

Stay safe out there, stay hydrated, and happy gardening!

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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