When is it going to rain? This is a question that I have been asked many times lately. I wish I knew.
The drought conditions caused by the lack of rain are beginning to stress more and more plants, and homeowners are becoming stressed about the time when they can water.
One of the news stations in the area did a report on watering and the confusion of what days you are allowed to water. In Columbia County, if you have an even-numbered address, you can water on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. If you have an odd-numbered address, you can water on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. You can water only between midnight and 10 a.m. There is no outdoor water use on Mondays.
Also, most people don't realize that this is a statewide ban on watering, and it even applies to people irrigating out of wells and surface water sources such as ponds, streams and rivers.
Everyone has three days each week to water. But do you need to water each of these days? To improve the drought resistance of your turf, you need to water less often but deeper. The turfgrasses that we grow need an inch of water a week. This needs to be applied at one time on our clay soils. If you live in an area with sandy soils, you need to put on a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch twice a week. Deep watering encourages the grasses' roots to grow deeper.
Also, you don't need to water until the grass shows signs of wilting. When the grass turns that blueish-gray color, the roots are growing deeper, searching for water. This is the time to water the grass again. Another benefit of watering deep is you reduce the chance of diseases infecting your turf.
If you have an irrigation system for your lawn, do you need to treat the lawn differently? The answer is no. If you have an irrigation system to water the lawn, you can manage the turf just like always. You can mow it at the recommended heights. The recommended heights are 1 inches for bermuda grass, zoysia and centipede. St. Augustine needs to be mowed at 2 inches in full sun to 4 inches in the shade. You can maintain your fertilization program.
But what happens if a total watering ban is put in place or you don't have an irrigation system? How can you reduce the stress on turf?
Practices such as mowing, fertilization, weed control and traffic are stresses that cause the turf to use more water. So, we need to reduce those stressors.
I don't have an irrigation system. So here is what I do to help my turf, which is centipede, survive the drought. I raise the mowing height of the grass. It is just like pruning a shrub. Pruning is an invigorating process; it causes new growth. Anytime the plant puts on new growth, it needs more water. You shouldn't need to mow as often since the grass is not growing.
Fertilization also increases the need for more water. You need to stop fertilizing until we get some rain.
Also, there is no need to apply herbicides now. Herbicides work best on weeds that are actively growing. The weeds are as drought-stressed as the turf. Traffic on the turf can increase the amount of water needed by the plant. You need to stay off the lawn as much as possible during times of drought.
When it starts raining again, what needs to be done to the drought-stressed grass? The first thing to do is to gradually reduce the mowing height over a period of weeks. I recommend that you mow the grass at the current height it is when the drought is over. Mow at this height for three or four mowings. Then you need to lower the mower by one notch, and mow three or four times. You will repeat this process until the height of the grass is back to the 1-inch height. When you fertilize, use a fertilizer that has lots of potassium The last number on the fertilizer bag is the potassium. Potassium is essential for drought resistance, disease resistance and winter hardiness.
If we follow these steps, our grasses should come through the drought. Bermuda grass, St. Augus-tine and Centipede will go dormant if they don't get enough water, and they will green back up when it rains.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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