Preparing your lawn now to thrive in hot, dry conditions ahead.
Author: Stefan Palm Date Posted: 30 August 2023
After what feels like a wet Winter, it's exciting to see some warmer weather on the horizon! While this bout of warm weather is right on cue for Spring, what can you do to prepare your lawn for what is likely to be a warmer and dryer period ahead?
With an El-Nino weather event looking likely for this Spring and Summer, there are some things you can do now to prepare your lawns so that they stay as green and healthy as possible, with a minimum amount of water.
What's happening now?
The earlier-than-usual onset of warmer weather during the later part of August is seeing soil temperatures rise faster than they normally would. With this trend continuing, expect to see your warm-season lawn begin to awaken from its Winter dormancy, perhaps even a little earlier than usual. As a result of the higher-than-average rainfall over Winter, soils are holding a decent amount of moisture, which will, combined with rising soil temperatures, result in lawns greening up quickly, with a fair amount of leaf growth early in September.
Kikuyu lawns have already begun to do this, with soil temperatures approaching the 13-degree mark in the metro area this week. I'd expect to see life in your couch lawn within the next few weeks, followed by buffalo lawns in late September.
What should you do now?
Maintenance – Start now.
If you haven't already, it's a good time to get your mowers and trimmers into gear and ready for the growing season and perhaps even give your irrigation system a test to see that everything works as it should. I've already given our kikuyu lawns a mow this week, and it was surprising how much growth came off!
Moss and algae – Start now.
There has been a higher-than-usual incidence of moss, algae and liverwort growth in lawns this Winter, particularly for lawns growing in shady environments. These plants have a nasty habit of growing underneath lawns, and successfully out-competing them for soil space. It isn't unusual for large bare patches to emerge over Winter, which, on closer look, are completely covered with moss and algae. When identifying moss and algae in your lawn, look for green and black growth on the soil surface. Sometimes, it's really obvious, but other times, it's as subtle as a black or green film over the surface of the soil that is barely noticeable.
The interesting thing about moss and algae is that they occupy nearly 100% of the soil space, so as far as the lawn is concerned, that space is occupied. Lawns generally won't even try to send runners into areas covered by moss and algae. With this in mind, it's important to eliminate moss, algae and liverwort now so that your lawn can take advantage of the Spring warmth and moisture to recover from the rigours of Winter. To learn more, have a read of our moss and algae blog.
Beetle Control – Start now.
I won't say too much about this because I covered it in last week's blog; however, there is a lot of upside to preventative beetle control. If you want your lawn to remain drought-tolerant during the warmer months, the last thing you want is to have its rootzone go down the mouths of hungry beetle larvae.
I'd recommend two things – 1) Read last week's blog, and 2) Apply an Acelepryn-based insecticide to your lawn, such as Yates Grub Kill and Protect or Acelepryn GR. This low environmental impact insecticide will remain active in your soil for six months, protecting it from beetle-related issues.
Adjust Mowing Practices – Start now.
As the spring season progresses, adjust your mowing height gradually. In the early Spring, keep your mower's blades set slightly higher to prevent scalping the grass. As the temperatures rise, you can gradually lower the mowing height.
Weed control – Prepare for mid-September.
I'll have more to say about this in the coming weeks, but Spring is the time when many weeds start to emerge. Be proactive in tackling them by either hand-pulling or using an appropriate herbicide (depending on your weed type). Early intervention prevents outbreaks and weeds from competing with your grass for resources.
Fertilising – Prepare for early to mid-October.
A correct fertiliser program is essential to maintaining a healthy lawn. The right nutrients, applied at the right time, will ensure your lawn looks its best, can repair from damage and can remain strong and drought tolerant in challenging conditions. While you can do it now, you'll get better results if you hang off for another month. Once again, I'll have more to say about this in the coming month; however, if you want to do some research, have a look at our lawn fertiliser guide.
Soil moisture management – Prepare for early October.
This is the big one. With soils well and truly hydrated in the metro area, there are things you can do into Spring to preserve that water and to ensure you maintain a good level of moisture down deep in the soil as we move into the warmer weather.
There is a very common and persistent theme to soils around Adelaide when conditions become hot and dry – and that is non-wetting soil. This is where the soil either completely repels water or only allows infiltration to a shallow depth. This condition is the enemy of a healthy lawn and will cause a lot of frustration and waste of water if it isn't dealt with properly. The way to ensure that any rainfall or water you apply soaks deep into your soil, where the roots need it most, is by using liquid wetting agents. As the weather gets warmer, I'll provide some information on what to use and when, but the ideal frequency is one application in October, then another in December and one more in February. It's a simple and cost-effective way to maintain a healthy lawn using less water.
For now, and as the weather gets warmer, the temptation to water your lawn more frequently might arise. However, it's crucial to water deeply and less frequently instead. This encourages the grass roots to grow deeper into the soil in search of moisture, leading to a more drought-resistant lawn. Water your lawn early in the morning to minimise evaporation.
Preparing a healthy lawn now will pay big dividends in your lawn's overall well-being and resilience when conditions become more challenging.
A lawn that is fertilised in the Spring, has low competition from weeds, insects, moss and algae and absorbs and retains moisture will look good and stay healthy, even in warm, dry conditions.