Drought Stress and How to Care for Your Lawn

Drought Stress

Drought stress can have a detrimental effect on the health and appearance of your lawn. Insufficient water supply due to prolonged dry weather or inadequate irrigation can cause the soil to dry out quickly, leading to browning, wilting, and thinning of the grass. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the signs of drought stress, provide tips on caring for your lawn during a drought, offer advice on reviving your lawn after a drought, and discuss what to do if you have watering restrictions in place.

What is Drought Stress?

Drought stress occurs when plants don’t get enough water to meet their needs, causing an imbalance in how much water they take in and lose. Lawns, made mostly of grass, are especially at risk of drought stress because they have wide surfaces and shallow roots. When there’s not enough water, the grass dries up, loses its lush green color, and eventually turns brown and brittle.

Causes of Drought Stress

Several factors can contribute to drought stress in lawns, with the most common being natural climate patterns. Prolonged periods of hot and dry weather can significantly reduce soil moisture levels, making it difficult for grass to thrive. Improper watering practices, such as infrequent or shallow watering, can also discourage deep root growth and make lawns more susceptible to drought stress.

Another factor that exacerbates drought stress is compacted soil. Compacted soil hampers water infiltration and root development, making it harder for grass to access the water it needs. This issue is more common with heavier soils like clay and loam. Still, even activities like using heavy equipment or repeatedly mowing over the same areas can contribute to soil compaction.

Signs of Drought Stress in Your Lawn

When your lawn is experiencing drought stress, it exhibits several telltale signs that indicate it is not receiving enough water to meet its needs. By identifying these indications promptly, you can intervene to stop additional harm. Here are some common signs of drought stress:

1. Brown or Yellow Patches

One of the most noticeable signs of drought stress is the appearance of brown or yellow patches in your lawn. As the grass becomes dehydrated, it starts to lose its vibrant green color, indicating a water shortage.

2. Wilting

Drought-stressed grass blades may appear limp, folded, or curled. When the lawn lacks water, it tries to conserve moisture by reducing the surface area of the leaves, resulting in wilting.

3. Footprints Remain Visible

If footprints or tire tracks remain visible on your lawn for an extended period, it is a clear indication that the grass lacks moisture and is under stress. This makes it harder for the grass to bounce back.

4. Slow Growth

During drought conditions, grass may enter a state of dormancy and slow down its growth. This is a survival mechanism to conserve energy and water. As a result, the grass may appear slower than normal or not grow as quickly as usual.

5. Thinning and Bare Patches

Drought-stressed grass tends to thin out or develop bare patches as weaker grass dies off. This creates an opportunity for weeds to take hold and further compete for limited resources.

6. Slow Recovery

A lawn suffering from drought stress may take longer to recover after being watered or after a rain shower. This slow recovery is due to the grass’s reduced ability to absorb and retain water.

7. Cracks on Soil

Drought can cause the soil to dry out, leading to the formation of cracks. These cracks indicate the lack of moisture in the soil and further contribute to the stress on your lawn.

Caring for Your Lawn During a Drought

To minimize the impact of drought stress on your lawn, it is crucial to implement proper care and maintenance practices. By following these tips, you can help your lawn survive and thrive during a drought:

1. Water Deeply and Infrequently

When it comes to watering your lawn during a drought, focus on deep watering rather than frequent shallow watering. Watering deeply promotes the development of deep roots, enhancing your lawn’s ability to withstand drought conditions. Aim for about 1 inch of water per week and water in the early morning or late evening to reduce evaporation.

2. Raise Your Mower Blade

Adjust your mower blades to a height of at least 3-3.5 inches. This higher cutting height provides shade to the roots, reduces water loss through evaporation, and helps retain moisture in the soil.

3. Water Early or Late in the Day

Watering your lawn during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening, helps minimize water loss through evaporation. Avoid watering during the hottest hours of the day when evaporation rates are highest.

4. Fertilize with Slow-Release Fertilizer

Applying a slow-release fertilizer to your lawn can help promote deep root growth and increase its tolerance to drought conditions. Slow-release fertilizers provide a steady supply of nutrients over time, ensuring the grass receives the nourishment it needs to stay healthy.

5. Mow Less Often

During a drought, it is important to reduce stress on your grass by mowing less frequently. Longer grass blades provide shade to the soil, reducing evaporation and helping to retain moisture. Adjust your mowing schedule accordingly and avoid cutting your grass too short.

6. Consider Drought-Tolerant Grasses

If you live in an area prone to drought conditions, consider planting drought-tolerant grasses. Fine fescue, tall fescue, and bluegrass varieties are known for their ability to withstand dry spells and can help make your lawn more resistant to drought stress.

7. Use a Wetting Agent

A wetting agent application can help improve water penetration into the soil and enhance moisture retention. These products ensure that water reaches the grass’s root zone more effectively, maximizing its effectiveness.

8. Apply Compost

Applying a layer of compost to your lawn helps retain moisture in the soil and provides essential nutrients for healthy growth. Compost acts as a natural mulch, reducing evaporation and improving overall soil quality.

Preventing Drought Stress with Moisture Management

Moisture management is a holistic method for avoiding drought stress in lawns by conserving and effectively using water resources. By adopting various techniques to optimize irrigation practices, improve soil structure, and promote moisture retention, homeowners can help their lawns endure dry periods with reduced stress.

Using Moisture Managers

Moisture managers, also known as soil surfactants, are specialized products used to enhance soil’s water-holding capacity and prevent excessive water loss. These products work by reducing the surface tension of water, allowing it to spread evenly and penetrate deeper into the soil. By improving water retention, moisture managers promote more efficient water use and help lawns withstand dry periods.

In addition to enhancing water retention, moisture managers also improve soil structure. They reduce soil compaction, allowing for better root penetration and the exchange of air and nutrients. This improved soil structure encourages deeper root growth, making lawns more resilient to drought stress and reducing the risk of pest infestations.

Efficient Watering Practices

Another key aspect of moisture management is adopting efficient watering practices. Instead of watering your lawn frequently but with shallow amounts of water, it is better to water less often but to a greater depth. Watering half an inch two times a week or a full inch once a week allows the roots to grow deeper, enabling them to access water even in the hottest and driest circumstances.

Proper Lawn Maintenance

Proper lawn maintenance can also contribute to preventing drought stress. Sharpening your mower blades regularly is essential, as dull equipment can tear grass, leaving openings for moisture to leak. Additionally, it is advisable to avoid feeding your grass until the drought is over. Fertilizer should only be applied when the lawn has sufficient moisture to utilize it effectively, as an excess build-up of unprocessed fertilizers can further stress the grass.

Improving Soil Structure

Improving soil structure is crucial for preventing drought stress. Aerating the soil is an effective technique that allows moisture to move through it more easily, enabling the grass to make the most of available water. Aeration creates channels in the soil, reducing compaction and promoting deeper root growth. This process can be done manually using a garden fork or by using specialized equipment like spike aerators.

Do I Need to Reseed My Lawn After a Drought?

The decision to reseed your lawn after a drought depends on the extent of the damage and the condition of your existing grass. If your lawn has only suffered minor damage and has not experienced widespread browning or death of large areas, it may be able to recover on its own with proper care and maintenance.

However, if your lawn has extensive brown or dead patches, reseeding may be necessary to restore its health and appearance. Overseeding can help fill in bare spots, thicken the lawn, and improve its overall resilience. Before reseeding, ensure the soil is moist, and the weather conditions favor optimal seed germination.

When reseeding, consider using drought-tolerant grass seed varieties that are well-suited to your region’s climate. These grasses have better adaptability to dry conditions and can withstand future drought periods more effectively.

As you work towards reviving your lawn, monitoring soil moisture levels and adjusting your watering schedule is important. Avoid overwatering, as excessive moisture can lead to other issues, such as fungal diseases. Additionally, fertilizing your lawn with a slow-release fertilizer containing essential nutrients can support new growth and aid recovery.

By following these steps and providing the necessary care, your lawn can recover and regain its lush green appearance after a drought.


Drought stress can cause significant damage to lawns if not properly addressed. By understanding the causes of drought stress and implementing moisture management techniques, homeowners can help their lawns stay healthy and resilient even during dry periods. Efficient watering practices, proper lawn maintenance, and improving soil structure are essential for preventing drought stress and ensuring the long-term health of your lawn.

Remember, if you need assistance with managing drought stress or any other lawn-related issues, ECO Lawn Utah is here to help. Request your free quote of service today and let our lawn service experts take care of your lawn’s needs.