There's a right way and a wrong way to let your lawn go dormant.
OK, you've gotten your first water bill of the summer, and it approaches the national debt. Now you're not thrilled at the prospect of spending all that money each month to keep your lawn green.
So what happens if there isn't enough rainfall and you decide not to water? Simply put, your lawn will go dormant. Grasses have the ability to go into dormancy when conditions -- such as heat and lack of water -- threaten their survival, and then come out of dormancy when conditions once again become favorable.
So what is the downside of letting a lawn go dormant? Since it will turn brown, you may become a pariah with your neighbors. Dormant lawns tend to thin out and cannot tolerate traffic as well as actively growing lawns. Weed species that are more heat- and drought-tolerant than turf grass are more likely to invade a dormant lawn.
Although you are likely to have fewer insects in a dormant lawn -- they go looking for actively growing lawns -- the ones you have will probably result in more damage. Finally, you lose the cooling effect of the turf and all hopes of lowering your electric bill.
There is a right way and wrong way to let a lawn go dormant. Not watering is the wrong way. A lawn needs to be conditioned, or hardened off, to successfully survive dormancy.
You should ease your lawn into dormancy using the following steps:
- Water your lawn thoroughly at the first sign of drought stress.
- Let the lawn go further into stress before watering again.
- Stop watering and hope for the best.
According to research performed at Iowa State University, a lawn will recover from dormancy healthier and faster if it is fertilized as it recovers. In August, apply a slow-release nitrogen source such as sulfur-coated urea that relies on moisture to release the nitrogen.
If you let your lawn go dormant, remember to limit traffic on the yard. Make the paper carrier use the sidewalk and keep the volleyball games to a minimum.
Finally, pray for abundant, timely rainfall.
--David M. Bishop is senior manager of information services for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.