This summer has been a scorcher in Australia and it’s not just the human and animal residents of our sunburnt country who are suffering. When the humidity and temperatures are soaring and the heat doesn’t let up, chances are your lawn is suffering too.
The hot summer sun can easily lead to the death of your precious lawn, particularly if you live in an area operating under water restrictions. Even the more heat-tolerant varieties such as Sir Walter Buffalo turf might need a little more TLC during heatwave conditions. It’s all too easy for your lawn to take on a brown, sunburnt and patchy look as it becomes more and more heat stressed.
The effects of a heatwave on your lawn
The effects of extreme and prolonged heat on your lawn can be dramatic. Heat stress can cause the grass to struggle with the increased heat and evaporation and limited water, leading to a greater risk of damage to your lawn. Signs of heat-stress in your lawn include:
- Wilting grass
- A rapidly browning lawn, becoming hay-like in colour
- Patchiness where the grass has completely vanished
- A shallow and ineffective root system
- Pests, diseases and weeds starting to take hold
- Visible footprints when you walk across the lawn
- Crackling, dry grass
- Gaps opening in the soil
If your lawn is displaying these signs, it’s struggling to cope with the heatwave. Obviously, this situation is not ideal – either for your lawn or for you. Most people want to use their lawn more often in summer, but can’t if it’s about to curl up its toes and die. Nobody wants to spend their relaxation time on a brown, crackling lawn full of crevices and bare patches. And it’s dismaying for many homeowners to see their pride and joy fast becoming a very sad sight.
You have two options in dealing with a heat-stressed lawn – let it go dormant, or try and keep it green.
Option#1 – Let the lawn go dormant
If you’re in the grip of a prolonged heatwave that doesn’t look like going away anytime soon, you might decide to just let your lawn go dormant. If you can’t fight the weather, sometimes it’s better to not even try. Allowing your lawn to just turn brown will enable it to conserve energy to survive the heat. And when it rains, the lawn will green up again fairly quickly. This “let sleeping dogs lie” strategy is the simplest option, although it will result in an unattractive and fairly unusable lawn over summer.
Option #2 – Keep your lawn green
If you’d prefer to keep your lawn alive over summer, try these strategies to save your heat-stressed lawn from complete decimation.
Ways to fix a brown, dry lawn
Browning and wilting grass is usually caused by a lack of moisture in the soil, an all-too-common problem during heatwaves. Try and give your lawn a deep drink if it’s starting to look stressed and weak.
To learn about the do’s and don’ts of watering your lawn, click here.
If water restrictions require you to limit water usage on the lawn, there are other tactics you can try.
- Install a rainwater tank to supplement your water resources.
- Use the old “bucket in the shower” strategy and you might be surprised at how much water you can actually collect.
- Add a wetting agent to the lawn before you water to help it absorb and retain as much water as possible.
- Water early in the morning (if water restrictions allow) to avoid evaporation.
Don’t mow the lawn too much – if your grass is really stressed, don’t mow at all and let the grass recover. If the grass really does need mowing, raise your mowing height and let the grass stay longer to help it retain moisture and insulate the soil from water evaporation. And put your lawn clippings on the lawn to provide the soil with a bit of shade and the grass with some extra nutrients. Your lawn will effectively be cannibalising itself and using what it produces naturally to promote further growth.
Try and stay off a stressed lawn as much as you can too, as this will give the grass a break from all the traffic it normally has to cope with.
Ways to fix patchiness
If sections of your lawn have completely died off and bare patches are starting to show, try replanting those sections of your lawn. Make sure you use the same type of turf you already have, and that you prepare the area properly. You could also try using runners from your existing lawn (if any are available) to fill in the bare patches.
In a really degenerated lawn, you might need to re-turf entire sections. Contact Horsham Turf for help.
Ways to fix a shallow root system
Consistent deep watering is the key to helping your lawn survive the heat. A shallow root system is caused by frequent, light watering, giving the grass roots no reason to penetrate deep into the soil. Lawns with shallow root systems will suffer during a heatwave, as the topsoil dries out quickly leaving no moisture available for the grass. You might think you’re doing your lawn a favour by giving it a quick sprinkle every day, but in reality, you’re only making the problem worse.
The deeper your lawn’s root system is, the better chance it has of avoiding heat stress. Deeper roots can grow down past the topsoil into the lower levels of the soil, which retains more moisture which the grass can then access.
A better way to hydrate your grass is to water deeply and not too often to encourage strong root growth and allow your lawn the best chance of survival. Once or twice a week is usually enough during summer, although you may need to water more often in extremely hot conditions.
For a more in-depth look at how to get a more drought-tolerant lawn this summer, click here.
Ways to fix a weed invasion
Weeds thrive in a good heatwave and will cheerfully invade your stressed-out lawn in summer. You might think giving your lawn a hearty dose of fertiliser would be the answer to all of its problems, but the reality is quite the opposite. Fertilising your lawn during summer’s scorching conditions means that you’ll be forcing the lawn to grow, when all it needs to do is just concentrate on survival. Adding fertiliser will stress the lawn and cause it to brown off even further, as its already limited resources become overextended.
A better strategy is to hand-pull the weeds as they appear (preferably at cooler times of the day for your own wellbeing). Try and control weeds and pests early and often, rather than waiting until a complete infestation is under way.
Before a heatwave is forecast
If you know a heatwave is coming, there are a few proactive measures you can take to prepare your lawn to best cope before it hits:
- Conduct a thorough watering before the temperatures start to soar to give your lawn a good boost and enable it to better tolerate the harsh conditions
- Add some wetting agent to your lawn
- Leave your lawn higher than usual when mowing to reduce stress and evaporation
- Apply a light top dressing to help the lawn lock in valuable moisture
- Remove any weeds present in the lawn that will compete with the grass for nutrients and moisture
Heatwaves are par for the course during the Australian summer, so knowing how to help your lawn survive is valuable. A bit of time and effort on your part will help minimise the effect the extreme heat will have on your lawn and help the grass to thrive again once the hot spell is over.
Read more about lawn jobs for summer to help your lawn survive the heat.