Brown lawns will get green again

07/15/2010 12:00 AM |

Joseph Leonard of S & L Irrigation in Southold checks the sprinkler system that keeps the lawn green at a Mattituck business.

Despite some welcome showers in the last few days, many North Forkers are still shaking their heads over lawns that are more brown than green and whose turf has started to make a nasty crunching noise underfoot. And in light of Suffolk County’s recent announcement that people should limit water usage because of the prolonged drought, some homeowners may be wondering if complying with that request will sound the death knell for the grass.

Well, don’t despair, say experts, it mostly looks worse than it really is.

Those homeowners who have been watering regularly should continue to water every other day if possible, says Southold landscaper Chris Mohr. “Most lawns will recover, although areas may need some overseeding,” he said. “This year all the lawns are stressing.”

And if you are watering, you should be doing it at night so that the water is more easily absorbed, says Gil Michaelis of Sound Shore Irrigation in Mattituck. “Water less frequently but for longer periods,” he said.

Local turf expert Terry Dugan feels the same way. “People who spritz their lawns every day won’t have a deep root system and a well-established root system will fare better in a drought environment,” he said. “The rule of thumb is one inch of water per week in normal weather.”

Manuel Canel, owner of Canel Landscape in Jamesport, believes homeowners should not waste time watering.

“It’s not worth it,” he said. “The majority of the time a brown lawn means the grass has gone dormant and, while it won’t necessarily recover after one good rainfall, you’ll begin to see a difference after the second or third.”

Thomas Kowalsick agrees that if your lawn is already brown and dormant, it is best left alone. Mr. Kowalsick, a horticultural consultant with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead, further cautions against watering a dormant lawn and advocates walking on it as little as possible until it recovers.

“Don’t let it go dormant and then start watering,” he said. “You’ll be creating an ideal environment for crabgrass. Lawns that are left alone during drought periods don’t tend to get crabgrass.”

Mr. Kowalsick adds that anyone considering putting in a lawn should do a little research as some grasses respond better than others to lack of water.

“Fine fescue is great if you don’t want to water,” he said. “Tall fescue is another grass that does well in a drought because it is deeper rooted.”

Is there anything a homeowner can do in spring to minimize drought damage? “Not really,” said Mr. Kowalsick. “You can care for your lawn properly but any lawn will go dormant in these conditions.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Kowalsick suggests that anyone looking for tips check out Cornell’s website at where horticultural leaflets on all facets of lawn care are available for download.

Final words of advice? Mr. Mohr suggests a light fertilizer after the weather starts to cool down.

Mr. Dugan emphasizes that if your lawn is drought-stressed, you should not only avoid watering, you should definitely not fertilize during a drought.

“Wait it out until the rain does its job and follow the water restrictions,” he said.

Putting on his other hat as a volunteer firefighter, Mr. Canel stressed just how important it is to follow local directives on water use.

“It’s very important not to water when they ask you to restrict your usage,” he said. “I would far rather save my neighbor’s house than his lawn.”