kentucky blue, tall fescue, buffalograss (5198 bytes)

Response of Different Turfgrass Types to a Dry Climate

By Tony Koski, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension turfgrass specialist

Different types of turf species show different abilities to withstand periods without moisture.

Kentucky bluegrass, the dominant lawn grass in Colorado, TOLERATES drought by going dormant. Bluegrass areas that have not been irrigated for more than a dozen years are still alive on moisture from natural rainfall although not very pretty. When water is again available, water slowly or cycle water on and off to avoid runoff from dry, water-resistant soil. Watering to wet deep soil layers may be unprofitable because deep roots may have died in the drought. Turf may have to re-grow roots at the surface as it greens up. Note that the turf may not require as much water at first because plants of reduced size use less water. Apply water based on examining soil moisture to avoid over-watering, rather than watering by the calendar. Do not fertilize until the turf has recovered.

Turf-type tall fescue AVOIDS drought by forming deep roots where soil conditions are favorable (loose from proper soil preparation). If the drought occurs gradually, there will be some thinning of the turf. The deeper rooted clumps survive and the shallower-rooted ones will die out. The longer the drought (many weeks to months), the more the loss of turf. Tall fescue has poor long-term dormancy. Once completely brown, there will be turf thinning if it does green up again upon renewed water application.

So, tall fescue avoids drought by forming deep roots under favorable soil conditions and Kentucky bluegrass tolerates drought by going dormant. Most grasses do both to some extent, some more of one and less of the other. Buffalograss does both very well - deep roots and excellent dormancy mechanisms when it runs out of water.

When water is drastically cut back or shut off on turf due to drought-imposed water restrictions, these are the likely consequences and prospects for recovery.

Photos: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010