Seton Hall Plant Expert: Back to Basics on Lawn Care

You need to water your lawn for at least an hour for the water to reach the roots, according to Dr. Marian Glenn, a biology professor at Seton Hall University. (Photo: Stephen Valenti)

It’s all about the water, according to Marian Glenn, Ph.D., a biology professor at Seton Hall University, who said drought conditions can be a challenge for lawn care.

Despite the rain in the last two weeks, spring rainfall has been about 2 inches less than the monthly averages, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Less rain fell in March this year than in any year since 2006.

With the low rainfalls creating a bit of an early drought, Glenn offered some tips on keeping the perfect lawn during the summer no matter the amount of rainfall.

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“Many people that are concerned with having a perfect lawn will install a sprinkler system,” Glenn said. “In that case there is never a drought.”

However, for people who do not have an underground sprinkler system, all hope is not lost. Regardless of the way, a lawn will need water in a drought, and the best way is to water the lawn for more than an hour, according to Glenn.

“If you do water the grass, you do it for a long time so the water will really sink deep in,” Glenn said. “The deeper the roots go, the longer the grass will stay green as it gets dry because it is going to get dry from the top down. The deeper the roots are, the better the grass will survive.”

Right now as the grass starts to grow after holding steady for the winter, you can start preparing your lawn for an unexpected drought during the summer. The way to do this is by cutting the grass in a manner that will help preserve it in the summer sun.

“When you cut the grass, instead of cutting it really short so that the sun can come in and dry out the ground,” Glenn said, “you want to leave the grass 3 or 4 inches long. You should set the lawnmower at the highest possible height.”

Glenn also noted that you should leave the grass clipping on the lawn as another way to help block the sun from reaching the soil and drying it out.

For those who have pets and children, don’t worry about them killing the lawn. Simply aerate your lawn before the summer starts to prevent it from getting too compacted.

“They have these machines to pull up a little plug out of the ground,” Glenn said. “It allows the air to get in so the soil is not compacted. Also it allows the water to get in those holes and gets deep into the soil. Aeration is a great way to prepare your lawn for a drought.”

Even if the lawn does start turning brown during a long summer drought, it will come back once the conditions improve.

“As soon as the weather gets wet again, the lawn will green up again,” Glenn said.  “It’s not like your lawn is going to be wiped out. The blade may die, but the grass isn’t really dead. The roots are still alive.”

Stephen Valenti is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts designed to give students real-world experience.

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