Building a Drought-Resistant Lawn
Droughts are the bane of many a landscaper. You work tirelessly to create a beautiful lawn, full of gorgeous grass and foliage, and then all at once it disappears. Even just a few days of drought can severely damage your plant life if you aren’t prepared for it. And continuously starting over can get expensive very quickly.
Before you give up completely and swap your lawn for a gravel pit, know that there are options for creating relatively low-water lawns and landscapes. A lot of trauma can be avoided with proper planning.
Know Your Environment
Before you get too deep into your landscaping plans, take into account the area where you’re working. Should you buy warm- or cool-season grass? Often times the trickiest areas to navigate are right in the transition zone between hotter and cooler environments. Here you may need to plant a variety of plants that love the heat and those that prefer the cold. Your local suppliers will likely have good advice on which types of lawns grow successfully in your area.
And remember, droughts can happen anywhere. Don’t think you’ll be safe from a drought just because you’ve chosen a home somewhere cooler or near a body of water. Nearly all lawns experience at least one drought or overly hot summer. The best piece of advice is to plan for a drought. It can’t hurt and when one comes, you’ll be glad you were ready.
What to Avoid
The traditional, all-American, bright emerald green lawn is a huge drain on your water supply. While it may be photo-perfect when well watered, all it takes is the slightest drought to end up with a checkerboard of unsightly dormant patches or even permanent damage.
Annual plants are also huge water-thieves. Annual plants are the opposite of perennials. They sprout up during the summer but don’t last through other seasons. Their roots never have time to grow deep so they rely heavily on water from the surface. In other words, they rely on water from your sprinkler lines.
Perennial plants, on the other hand, fare much better during droughts. They require a lot of water at the start but once their roots have grown, they absorb water from deep in the ground. The water you do use can then be spent on more vulnerable plants.
Living in a drought-prone area forces many homeowners to get creative. Some people opt for artificial grass to mimic the look of a lawn from a wetter environment, but this definitely isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of real plant options to test out before going completely artificial.
Ornamental grasses like fountain grass or pampas grass are very hearty options that won’t wither away during a drought. Creatively placed stone plating and ornamental gravel can pair nicely with these grasses to give your yard a sophisticated look that won’t require a river to maintain.
The key is variety. Sprucing up your yard with some small garden patches is another way to keep gravel or stone from becoming boring. Succulents are also a wonderful option because they are sturdy, require very little water, and look great.
What About Flowers?
You may think that flowers are a lost cause in a drought-prone area, but this isn’t true! Plenty of perennial flowers have the right kind of low maintenance care requirements that make them hearty enough to survive tough droughts. Lavender, Russian Sage, and Kangaroo Paw are all excellent choices that add a welcome bit of color to the environment.
If you can’t bear to part with your golf course-green, traditional lawn grass, then there are still some measures you can take to toughen it up before expected periods of drought.
Ideally, you should begin preparing your yard for a drought about a month in advance. This will give you time to bolster your lawn’s health and make it strong enough to withstand the drought. Start with the following steps in no particular order:
- Begin watering more infrequently (but also more deeply!)
- Let grass clippings lay on the lawn
- Reduce thatch and compaction
- Mow frequently with a sharp blade to limit the percentage of the grass stalk cut each time
- Avoid herbicides and pesticides at all costs
- Fertilize with potassium (but not nitrogen!)
Following these steps will give your lawn a fighting chance against the oncoming drought. When the drought hits, try to keep people off the lawn and prioritize watering the more at-risk areas, such as grass near buildings or reflective surfaces.
In drought-prone areas, prevention is everything. Once a drought hits, if you weren’t ready for it, there’s not much you can do. Planting the wrong kinds of foliage will only result in expensive yardwork to redo once the drought is over. Mastering drought preparation is one of the key tenets of water conservation. Remember, you’re not just saving your lawn, but your wallet as well!