Fertilization during drought should be reduced or postponed. Nitrogen fertilization encourages grass to put its energy into growing shoots rather than roots. This both prevents the grass from developing the deep root system it needs to survive and creates new grass blades that will suffer the effects of drought. If you choose to fertilize, look for a fertilizer with a primarily slow-release nitrogen and phophorus source that will not promote rapid growth. Look for a fertilizer with a high potassium level (the third number on the bag) as this can help to enhance drought tolerance. Be sure to irrigate your fertilizer in after application to avoid burn and get the product to the roots, where it will be taken up by the plant. You want to apply just a small amount of water (1/4 inch) to do this, which would typically mean running an irrigation system for about fifteen minutes.
Supplemental iron applications can also help keep turf green during drought without promoting new shoot growth. Iron can be safely applied during drought times.
Soil testing is helpful in monitoring nutrient levels and soil pH, and not just during drought. Knowing your lawn’s nutrient requirements can help you choose the right fertility products and design the best possible fertilization regime. Contact your county Extension office for information on how to submit soil samples.
A healthy, vigorously growing turfgrass is the best defense against weeds and pests, so try to keep your lawn healthy by following homeowner best management practices. Pesticides application should always follow the label in order to avoid harming the plants, animals, or the environment. Especially in times of drought, it is best to spot-treat only those small areas that might be affected by a pest. The irrigation, mowing, and fertilization practices outlined above will reduce the need for pest control measures.
If a pest problem is diagnosed, it should be promptly treated by following recommendations from your county Extension office. Spot treating (treating individual areas by hand) is usually effective and is safer for drought-stressed grass than blanket treatment, or treating the entire lawn.
Alternatives to Turfgrass
Sometimes turf is planted where it cannot survive long term. Alternatives to turf should be considered in such cases. Mulched beds or groundcovers, such as trailing evergreen plants like Asiatic jasmine or ivy, may be more suitable. In any case, choose plants that are hardy and do not require supplemental irrigation. Consult your county Extension office for suggestions on groundcovers that grow best in your area.
Improving Drought Tolerance in Your Florida Lawn (EDIS LH027)