How To Care For Your Lawn During A Drought

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Nebraska's climate can be challenging for maintaining a lush lawn, especially during periods of drought. With water conservation becoming increasingly important, homeowners need to adopt strategies that promote a healthy lawn while minimizing water usage. The expert landscapers here at Summit Lawns put together this guide to explore various lawn care tasks and provide tips specifically tailored to Nebraska's drought conditions.

Understand Drought Conditions In Nebraska

Droughts in Nebraska occur during the summer months, spanning from late spring to early fall. The state's semi-arid climate and low precipitation levels contribute to the frequency and severity of droughts, which can last for extended periods. During droughts, the lack of rainfall leads to soil moisture depletion and dry conditions, adversely affecting residential landscapes. 

The soil becomes compacted and loses its ability to retain water, making it challenging for grass roots to access moisture. As a result, residential lawns may experience wilting, browning, and reduced growth. Additionally, drought stress weakens the overall health of the grass, making it more susceptible to pests, diseases, and weed infestations. Proper lawn care practices, including are essential for mitigating the impacts of drought on residential lawns in Nebraska.

Seed Appropriately For Nebraska Droughts

Tall fescue seed and buffalograss seed stand out as the top choices for drought-resistant grass in Nebraska due to their exceptional ability to thrive in dry conditions. These are the best grass types for droughts in Nebraska due to their deep root systems, drought tolerance, and adaptability to the state's climate and soil conditions. Homeowners seeking lush and resilient lawns during dry periods can rely on these grass varieties to maintain their beauty and health while conserving water resources.

Tall Fescue

  • Deep Root System: Tall fescue boasts an extensive root system that penetrates deep into the soil, allowing it to access moisture from lower soil layers. This deep root system not only enhances its drought resilience but also improves soil structure by reducing compaction and increasing water infiltration.
  • Drought Tolerance: Tall fescue exhibits remarkable drought tolerance, thanks to its ability to maintain its green color and growth even in the face of limited water availability. During periods of drought, tall fescue conserves water by reducing transpiration and adjusting its growth rate, ensuring its survival and continued health.
  • Versatility: Tall fescue is highly adaptable to various soil types and growing conditions, making it a versatile choice for Nebraska homeowners. Whether your lawn receives full sun or partial shade, tall fescue can thrive and provide a lush, green carpet year-round.
  • Disease Resistance: Tall fescue is known for its resistance to common lawn diseases, such as brown patch and dollar spot, which can become more prevalent during drought conditions. Its natural resistance to these diseases reduces the need for chemical treatments, promoting a healthier and more sustainable lawn.


  • Native Adaptation: Buffalograss is native to the Great Plains region, including Nebraska, where it has evolved to thrive in the state's climate and soil conditions. Its deep root system enables it to access moisture from lower soil layers, making it well-suited for surviving Nebraska's hot and dry summers.
  • Low Water Requirements: Buffalograss is renowned for its minimal water requirements, making it an excellent choice for homeowners looking to conserve water during droughts. Once established, buffalograss can survive solely on rainfall, requiring minimal supplemental irrigation even during prolonged dry spells.
  • Drought Resistance: Buffalograss has developed remarkable drought resistance by becoming dormant during periods of water scarcity. While it may turn brown during droughts as a survival mechanism, buffalograss quickly greens up once adequate moisture returns, demonstrating its resilience and ability to bounce back.
  • Low Maintenance: Buffalograss requires minimal maintenance compared to other turfgrass species, making it an attractive option for homeowners seeking a low-maintenance lawn. Its slow growth rate reduces the need for frequent mowing, saving both time and resources while still providing a beautiful and sustainable lawn option.

Leave Grass Taller When Mowing Lawns During Droughts

During drought conditions, adopting the best mowing practices is essential for maintaining a healthy lawn while conserving water. To minimize stress on the grass and promote water retention, it's crucial to adjust mowing practices accordingly. Raise the mower blade to a higher setting to leave grass blades longer. Longer grass blades provide shade to the soil, reducing moisture evaporation and protecting the grass roots from excessive heat.

Avoid mowing during the hottest part of the day to prevent additional stress on the grass. Instead, mow early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler and moisture loss is minimized. Most importantly, make sure you are only mowing if growth is visible or you could end up damaging the soil and potentially dormant grass. 

  • Ideal Grass Height During Nebraska Droughts: Tall fescue - 4 inches, buffalograss - 3 inches.

Water Carefully During Drought Conditions

Overwatering during a drought can exacerbate water scarcity issues and harm both the environment and your lawn. Excessive watering leads to water runoff, which can carry pollutants into waterways and contribute to soil erosion. Overwatering promotes shallow root growth, making lawns more susceptible to drought stress in the long run. To ensure responsible water usage during drought conditions, consider the following proper watering tips:

  • Water Deeply & Infrequently: Instead of frequent shallow watering, aim to water deeply but less often. This encourages grass roots to grow deeper into the soil, where they can access moisture more efficiently and become more resilient to drought conditions.
  • Water During Cooler Times: Watering early in the morning or late in the evening reduces water loss due to evaporation. Cooler temperatures also minimize stress on the grass and allow water to penetrate the soil more effectively.
  • Adjust Sprinklers: Check your sprinkler system to ensure that water is being distributed evenly and not pooling or running off onto sidewalks and driveways. Properly adjusted sprinklers help maximize water absorption by the soil and minimize waste.
  • Use A Rain Gauge: Install a rain gauge in your yard to monitor rainfall accurately. This allows you to adjust your irrigation schedule based on actual precipitation, avoiding unnecessary watering and conserving water resources.
  • Consider Drip Irrigation: Drip irrigation systems deliver water directly to the root zone of plants, minimizing water loss due to evaporation and runoff. This targeted watering method is especially efficient during drought conditions and can help reduce overall water usage.
  • Mulch Around Plants: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or shredded bark, around plants and in flower beds. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, suppresses weed growth, and regulates soil temperature, reducing the need for frequent watering.

Consider Skipping Fertilization During Droughts

During a drought, it's essential for homeowners to consider the environmental impact of lawn fertilization and make informed decisions to conserve water and promote sustainability. With water scarcity becoming increasingly concerning, fertilizing lightly or even skipping fertilization altogether during a drought can be a responsible choice. While fertilizers contain essential nutrients that promote healthy grass growth, they often require water to activate and effectively reach the grass roots. For these reasons, it is best to opt for light applications of liquid fertilizer, or skip the fertilization entirely until your grass shows signs of growth again. 

It’s important to remember that during periods of drought stress, grass may naturally enter a dormant state, focusing its energy on survival rather than growth. Therefore, fertilizing lightly or abstaining from fertilization during a drought can be a practical and environmentally conscious decision, allowing homeowners to prioritize water conservation and the long-term health of their lawns.

Proper Lawn Maintenance & Weed Control For Droughts

Applying improper weed control methods and herbicides during a drought can pose significant risks to both the environment and the health of your lawn. Drought conditions can exacerbate the negative effects of herbicides, increasing the likelihood of chemical runoff into waterways and groundwater sources. Herbicides may have a more pronounced impact on stressed grass and soil during drought, leading to potential damage to beneficial microorganisms and soil structure. Using excessive herbicides or applying them incorrectly can also harm non-target plants, disrupt ecological balance, and contribute to the development of herbicide-resistant weeds. 

To control lawn weeds effectively during a drought without damaging the lawn or soil, consider the methods below. For even more tips on proper lawn maintenance and weed control during a Nebraska drought, be sure to call Summit Lawns before your lawn suffers!

  • Hand-Pulling: Remove weeds by hand, ensuring you pull out the entire root system to prevent regrowth.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around plants and in flower beds to suppress weed growth and conserve soil moisture.
  • Spot Treatment: Use targeted spot treatments, such as vinegar or boiling water, to control weeds in specific areas without affecting surrounding vegetation.
  • Preventive Measures: Take preventive measures to minimize weed growth, such as overseeding with drought-tolerant grass varieties, maintaining proper lawn care practices, and improving soil health to promote dense turf that inhibits weed growth.
  • Cultural Practices: Implement cultural practices such as regular mowing at the appropriate height, aerating the soil to improve water penetration, and overseeding to fill in bare patches and outcompete weeds.
  • Natural Herbicides: Consider using natural or organic herbicides that are less harmful to the environment and soil health compared to synthetic chemicals. This will help ensure that you do not damage your lawn while maintaining your turf during a drought.