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The Four Stages Of Drought

The heat is on the way in Springfield, MA

Summer has arrived here in New England and over the Fourth of July weekend, we experienced some of the highest temperatures of the season with no significant rainfall.  What does this mean for our lawns? Brown spots! Our spring was so wet and cool that it has left our lawns with incredibly shallow root systems. We are seeing lawns go through the stages of heat and drought stress much more rapidly than normal. Let’s look at the stages

Stage 1: Footprinting

During the first stage, you’ll notice the lawn appear to turn a bluish-gray color and when you walk on the lawn your footprints do not bounce back as quickly as they once did. Stage 1 can occur in as little as 3 days. Deep and infrequent watering will get the lawn to bounce back and promote deeper root growth.

Stage 2: Slow growth

As the plant experiences more stress from lack of water it will slow growth in order to conserve resources. This is the last stage before the loss of color and density will start to become noticeable. Regular watering needs to be in effect to get the lawn to recover during this stage, 4-5 times a week for 25-35 minutes a zone depending on soil conditions.

Stage 3: Pre-dormancy

The turf is preparing itself to shut down. The plant will start to send its resources to the crown and shoots to protect itself from the lack of water. During this period areas of the lawn that are most compacted will turn first and patches of the lawn will appear brownish-green.Dormancy On a lawn
From the picture, you can also see different grasses that go through the stages at different rates. Our fine fescue grasses will begin to turn first then the Blue and Rye grasses followed by tall fescue types. 

To get the lawn out of pre dormancy aggressive irrigation or rainfall must happen over the next several days to stimulate new growth. It can take up to 2 weeks to reverse pre dormancy.

Stage 4: Dormancy

The final stage is for the plant to survive the drought by shutting itself down. The entire lawn will turn brown, but it is not dead! Dormancy is a survival tactic by cool-season grasses. When cooler temperatures and regular watering or rainfall over a 14-21 day period occur the turf will begin to bounce back. 

Cultural practices to consider for drought stress turf:

  • Do Not mow during the heat of the day, especially during stages 2-3. This can cause significant damage to the plant that it may never recover from. During stage 4 no mowing should occur as the plant isn’t actively growing. 

  • Mowing height should be 3 plus inches. This will promote deeper roots so when water is available the turfgrass is reaching as much moisture as it can.

  • Aeration of compacted or dormant grass will promote better water penetration and aid the recovery of the lawn.

If you have any additional questions about drought stress or watering information please don’t hesitate to call our office and ask!

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