Lawn Care Tips to Keep Your Grass Green During a Minnesota Drought

Drought and Lawn Care in Minnesota

Having a yard you can be proud of is important, and for many Minnesota homeowners part of that satisfaction comes down to having a healthy, green lawn. A summer with drought can complicate matters, especially during our short growing season, so it’s important to understand how to care for your lawn during these tough times to set your lawn up for success.

From how long and how often to run automatic sprinklers to recommended mowing height and ways to improve grass health following drought, Green Stuff Lawn has you covered with this guide.

Best Way to Water Your Minnesota Lawn During Drought

While you might see some of your neighbors running their sprinklers daily, that’s not the most effective or sustainable way to prompt healthy root growth in grass during drought. Instead, you are better off watering liberally at less frequent intervals. If your lawn is established, watering 1.5 inches a week should be plenty. The trick is to make sure the top six inches or so of soil are soaked with each watering, since that’s where the root structure supporting your grass is located.

If you use an automatic sprinkler system and are unsure of how much water your system uses, we recommend measuring with a rain gauge. As a test, run a 15-minute cycle in your zone with the rain gauge, then measure the water amount at the end of the interval. If, for example, you find you watered .25 inches during that span, you know you could run your sprinkler three times a week for 30 minutes at a time in each zone to reach your 1.5-inch watering target by the end of the week. By using your rain gauge, you will also know how much watering you can subtract from your sprinkler run time when your yard receives rainfall.

When it comes to lawn watering best practices, time of day is also a factor. Throughout Minnesota, where we grow cold-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescues, it’s best to water your lawn early in the morning or in the evening, after the hottest period of the day. Typically, morning is best so that grass gets a good soaking and has the chance to absorb the water before it gets hot outside. If you water too late at night, water can pool, increasing unwanted insect activity, plus it’s not healthy for your lawn to have all that excess water overnight.

If you’re curious how long grass can go without water, your lawn will go dormant before dying. As a result, most grass can survive up to six weeks without water. According to the University of Minnesota, Kentucky bluegrass starts browning after seven days without water and fine fescues can keep their green for up to four weeks.

Use a Rain Barrel

Drought is a good time to use rain barrels. A rain barrel which captures runoff from your roof will provide an extra reserve of water for the drought season, plus you’ll prevent water saturation during the stormy days and reduce runoff pollution and erosion.

Lawn Mowing During Drought

Adjusting how you mow your lawn during a drought is key to avoiding any unnecessary damage to your lawn. Here are some mowing tips to get your grass past the drought period, in the best possible condition:

  • Mow less frequently. Letting your grass grow longer between mows will protect your lawn from losing moisture. This is because longer grass blades provide shade, which will aid the soil and reduce water evaporation. If you normally mow once a week, perhaps you can switch to mowing every 10-12 days during drought, mindful of any local ordinances or homeowners’ association rules requiring you to mow to a certain height.
  • Mow to a height of 4 inches. If you need to go a little shorter, try to go no shorter than 3 inches. Cutting too short will scalp your lawn and cause water to evaporate too quickly, damaging your grass and soil.
  • Leave grass clippings in your yard. Clippings left on your lawn will provide nutrients while providing an extra layer of protection over your grass and soil, helping the roots. Think of your grass clippings as a natural lawn fertilizer.

Should You Aerate Your Lawn, Dethatch or Fertilize in a Drought?

Aeration should be performed in the spring or fall, when cold-season grasses are actively growing. If you aerate while grass is dormant, when it’s hot during summer months, it will take much longer for your grass to recover. Aeration is also not recommended during drought because it will likely cause further water loss during a time you should be trying to capture every bit of moisture you can.

Dethatching to remove dead plants and fallen leaves is helpful during drought. Dethatching also lets your lawn “breath” and will help you avoid smothering your lawn. Remember to leave the grass clippings though.

You usually don’t want to fertilize during drought either, but there are exceptions based on outdoor temperature, the type of fertilizer you use, and how often your fertilizer should be applied.

If you use fertilizer incorrectly, you may be encouraging grass to grow that can’t get the nutrients it needs, and if it’s too warm you may scorch your grass. Which is the best fertilizer for drought conditions? A good rule of thumb is to avoid fertilizing with nitrogen-rich products during drought, and extreme heat. Many fertilizers you can buy at your local hardware store are designed to be used when it’s below 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

How to Help Your Lawn Recover From Drought

In most cases, lawns that go dormant aren’t dead. Grass will come back and grow again after drought. But coming out of drought, patience is key. Continue to water more deeply and less frequently, and it’s also a good idea to keep your grass longer. Once your grass has recovered and moisture returns to normal, you can look at fertilization and overseeding, where needed, to start new grass in bare areas. Make sure your soil stays consistently moist until any new grass is established.

Staying on top of weeding is also important following drought, as weeds overpower weakened grass. While your lawn is in recovery, the last thing you want is weeds taking control and pushing out good sod.

A Professional Service That Can Handle Drought

Knowing what promotes healthy root growth in lawns and by following our proven best practices, Green Stuff Lawn can provide you detail-oriented, full-service lawn care. From mowing services to lawn fertilizing and core aeration, our Twin Cities-based lawn care experts are ready to maximize your outdoor spaces. Contact us to receive a free quote.