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Getting turf ready for drought

How extraordinary that in mid March we are facing hosepipe bans in several parts of the country. What are the implications for turf growers and turf users in the coming months, assuming that in the meantime we don’t have torrential and continuous rain to redress the balance?

We in Yorkshire are fortunate in having a rich aquifer beneath us fed by rainfall from the Pennines. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have to be very circumspect in the way in which we use our allocated water. Night watering, although expensive in terms of labour, is much more effective with every drop getting to the roots instead of being blown away or burned off by the midday sun. We also have to be careful not to overwater – that encourages lazy, shallow rooting resulting in a turf continually crying out for water. Newly established turf that hasn’t had a chance to develop deep roots is our priority, as is turf being made ready for market.

In a garden or grassed landscaped area the emphasis should also be on encouraging and developing a deep root system. Shallow rooted turf, which we commonly see on hard, compacted soils, will always suffer first in a drought. Roots like oxygen in the pore spaces in the soil and we can encourage that by hollow coring and tining to loosen the soil and let the air in.

Just like a human body which needs food and oxygen to survive, grass will be stressed without adequate supplies of both, and if a  lack of water is added as an extra stress,it will sulk and go brown.

Plant breeding is helping us by coming up with varieties of grass that are much more tolerant to drought, either by producing very deep root systems, like tall fescues present in our RTF turf grade, or certain finer grasses like hard fescue and crested hairgrass which naturally live on very thin soils and are in our LT2 Low Maintenance turf.

Laying new turf in a period of drought restrictions may seem inadvisable. However, the Environment Agency is so aware of the value of grass surfaces in absorbing rainwater and ultimately returning it to aquifers, that there is currently a derogation allowing the watering of newly laid turf for a period of 28 days which should allow the turf to establish well.

It is worth remembering that grass is an astonishingly resilient plant and that if it does go brown,  it nearly always recovers.