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We do not often have very warm weather in the UK. It can catch a gardener by surprise. Leave us unprepared and not quite sure of what to do.

One area that might need a little extra care and attention during a long dry and warm spell is your lawn.

How does a good British lawn cope with prolonged periods of high temperatures and low rainfall? If you are busy yourself what is the best time to water, feed or check your lawn for dormancy? Is it true that you should not water in the mornings? How can you tell if a dry lawn is dormant or dead?

Hopefully we can give you the answers.

To determine if a lawn is dormant or dead, inspect it down at the soil level. Lawns that have gone dormant will have brown leaves, but the crown at the base of the leaves will still be green, and the roots will have a healthy off-white colour. If is lawn is completely dead, the entire plant—leaves, crowns, and roots—will be brown and brittle.

If the lawn is in fact dead, your only options are to either reseed or lay sod. But barring that fate, you can help save your troubled or dormant lawn, though it won’t be easy.

When to water your lawn

The best way to protect your lawn during a drought, of course, is to simply water the grass on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that’s not always an option. Most towns institute water restrictions during a drought, making it illegal to water your lawn. And if your home draws water from a deep well, the underground water table will be much lower than normal, and the well won’t be able to supply enough water for both domestic use and lawn irrigation.

Even if you can legally water your lawn (for now), it might not be the best idea. According to the Lawn Institute, a nonprofit lawn-research corporation, it’s better to halt irrigation at the beginning of a drought than to water a lawn for a short period of time and then stop. A brown, dormant lawn may actually be in better condition to survive a drought than a lawn that was occasionally watered.

So let’s assume that—like most people—you can’t water during a drought, or you fear your region might put such restrictions in place. Now what?

How to care for a lawn during a long dry spell

  • 1 De-thatch. To help your lawn absorb what little moisture is available, use a de-thatcher. Thatch is simply an overaccumulation of dead organic lawn matter, such as grass clippings and shredded leaves. Removing thatch is important any time of the year but especially during a drought.
  • 2 Aerate. Use a manual (or, better yet, power) aerator to punch holes in the lawn. The holes will deliver any moisture directly to the lawn’s root system.
  • 3 Keep on mowing. Grass will eventually stop growing during a drought, but mow as often as necessary, never removing more than one-third of the grass blades. Sharpen your mower blades at least twice during the mowing season. Dull blades tend to rip the grass, leaving jagged edges that quickly dry out and turn brown.
  • 4 But don’t bag clippings. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn after a mowing or two can provide much needed moisture. Just don’t let them get too thick or clump together in mats, or they’ll suffocate the lawn (see tip No. 1).
  • 5 Stay off the lawn. Eliminate as much traffic on the lawn as possible, including foot traffic and lawn equipment. The weight of all this activity will compact the soil, making it more difficult for the lawn to absorb moisture.

Helping your lawn to recover

Once the drought ends, most types of grass slowly recover on their own. You can help speed along the process with these four simple steps.

  • 1 Water thoroughly. The obvious first step. Once water restrictions are lifted, soak the lawn to restore the soil’s moisture and to initiate new root growth. It’s especially important to water grass that’s growing on tops of hills where the wind can dry out the lawn, and on sloped areas where water tends to run off before it can soak in. Water in the early morning before the sun gets high in the sky and starts evaporating the moisture.
  • 2 Fertilise. After about two weeks of watering, use a broadcast spreader to apply a balanced fertiliser with proportions as close as possible to 4-1-2 for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. (High-nitrogen fertilisers could hurt the lawn if extremely hot, dry weather returns.)
  • 3 Kill weeds. Once the grass is growing strong, treat individual weeds—not the entire lawn—with an herbicide. By eliminating weeds, there will be more moisture and nutrients available for the grass. And as the lawn thickens, it’ll eventually crowd out the weeds on its own.
  • 4 Return to routine maintenance. Resume your regular lawn-maintenance schedule, which should include consistent watering, mowing, thatch removal, and aeration.