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Hosepipe ban and watering of turf
Mixed messages are coming from the water companies introducing hospipe bans from 5th April 2012. The Turfgrass Growers Association (TGA) is lobbying hard to allow 28 day exeptions for newly laid turf but the news is not looking promising at the moment. The latest information, including the status of each water company, can be found on the TGA website: http://www.turfgrass.co.uk/index.php/water_issues/
For existing lawns, the following notes from the TGA about why you should not water established lawns, and how to look after your established lawn during drought should prove helpful.
Why you should not water established lawns
There is no need to water established lawns. In this era of climate change and environmental uncertainty, the watering of established lawns is wasteful and un-necessary.
Don’t worry if your lawn goes brown during a drought. Going brown is the natural survival mechanism of grass. When water is in short supply grass responds by shutting down. The brown colour shows that the grass has stopped growing until more favourable conditions return.
Watering your established lawn should be avoided in most situations. Here’s why:
- Water is a precious and limited resource.
- Watering increases the chance of disease on your lawn. Most lawn diseases thrive in warm, damp conditions.
- Watering encourages the spread of the weed grass, annual meadow grass. Lawns that are allowed to dry out have much less of this unsightly weed.
- Watering encourages shallow rooting, which in turn means the lawn is more at risk in dry conditions. So, once you start watering, you can’t stop.
- Damp soils are easily damaged by compaction during heavy use, e.g. during family barbeques and games on the lawn.
- Grass is remarkably resilient, and as long as you follow a few basic rules, most lawns will recover completely when the rains finally arrive. Below, we give you some ideas on how to plan ahead, and some hints on how to care for your lawn during a dry summer.
How to look after your lawn during drought
1. Increase mowing height
This is one of the most important measures to take. There are several reasons for this. As you increase the height of cut, the depth of root increases in proportion. As a result, the roots go deeper into the ground in search of moisture. Also, the taller grass helps to shade the ground, and shelter it from the higher temperatures.
Most lawns should not be mown lower than 25mm (1”) at the best of times. In times of drought, lift the height to 35-40mm.
2. Try not to concentrate wear in one place
When the grass goes brown and stops growing it becomes easier to damage. So try to move toys like slides, swings, and goal posts around so that the wear is spread over the lawn. When your friends come over for a BBQ, try and place it in a different place each time.
3. Avoid feed and weedkiller
Brown grass is not growing, so it doesn’t need feeding. Avoid blanket weedkillers at all costs because you risk damaging the grass. You can, of course treat individual weeds with a hand-held spot sprayer. Weeds with deep tap roots, like dandelion, can thrive in drought conditions.
4. Keep the mower blades sharp
Sharp blades produce a nice clean cut. Blunt blades shred and bruise the grass leaf, and the plant loses more water.
5. Apply top-dressing
One of the ways to help your lawn is by applying regular light dressings of compost. This acts as a “mulch” to retain moisture in the soil and protect the grass crowns from the higher temperatures.
6. Annual maintenance to reduce thatch
The removal of thatch by scarifying should be an important part of your lawn maintenance programme. The thatch layer acts like a barrier to rainfall, and stops precious water getting down to the roots. Regular aeration is another useful operation which helps water find its way into the soil.
Helping your lawn recover after a drought
Once the drought has broken you will be able to assess what effect it’s had on your lawn. But be patient, because it may take a week or two before new shoots start appearing. In most cases, your lawn will fully recover.
If any bare areas persist overseed them with a turf seed mixture chosen to match the existing lawn. Scratch up the surface of the bare ground to loosen the soil before seeding. Cover the seed with a thin layer of compost to help germination, and keep damp for a week. Continue to mow the lawn at a height of no less than 25mm to allow the seedlings to establish without being shaded by the existing grass.