University of Florida

Lawn Management During Drought

Florida homeowners can maintain healthy lawns during times of drought or water shortage, even when water management districts (WMDs) have imposed mandatory water restrictions. Most turf damage is actually caused by over-watering, and, in general, watering restrictions provide for sufficient irrigation of most lawngrasses.

Here are some simple maintenance practices you can use to help your lawn best survive periods of drought.

Mow High

Grass grows more slowly when there’s less water available. So you’ll typically mow less during a drought or water shortage.

When you do mow, always mow at the highest recommended height for your grass species. Never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade at any one mowing, as this will stress the drought-stressed grass further. Higher mowing encourages deeper rooting, one of the key mechanisms of drought tolerance.

Sharpen Mower Blades

Sharp mower blades make a clean cut on the grass. These cuts heal faster and stress the grass less than a cut made with a dull blade. Mow your lawn when the grass is dry, so that cut grass does not stick to the mower blades and prevent them making the cleanest possible cut.

Water the Right Amount

In many cases, lawns can survive on irrigation of only one to two days per week if 1/2 to 3/4 inches of water is applied each time. But water only if it hasn’t rained in the past twenty-four hours.

Never irrigate to the point of run-off. Run-off is water that the roots cannot absorb, which runs into storm drains and eventually into streams, lakes, and other bodies of water, or into groundwater, where our drinking water comes from. Run-off can carry lawn and roadway chemicals and pollutants, and is a plain waste of water.

Irrigation run times should rarely exceed sixty minutes for rotary sprinklers and impact sprinklers, or twenty minutes for spray heads. If irrigation run times exceed these guidelines, be sure your system is not applying more than 3/4 inches of water during a single watering.

For more information on applying the right amount of water, see Watering Your Lawn and Saving Water Using Your Irrigation System.

Water Uniformly

Some irrigation systems are improperly designed and don’t distribute irrigation water evenly. The dry areas they can create (parts of the lawn not receiving enough water) are especially obvious during a drought, when rainfall isn’t masking the problem. Place shallow cans in the bad and good areas of your lawn to determine how evenly your system is distributing water.

If your system is not applying water uniformly, contact a qualified irrigation contractor to make any necessary repairs, or try turning or unclogging the sprinkler heads.