Building Drought Resistance Lawns in Central Texas

Central Texas is prone to periods of drought. Throughout Texas, drought conditions and water restrictions have been impacting our landscape choices. Austin, San Antonio and surrounding cities have either recommend or have passed ordinances restricting watering of existing lawns and/or requiring drought-tolerant grasses for new residential and commercial development.

Building and maintaining a drought resistance lawn in Central Texas starts with a drought tolerant grass species and a healthy turf. Drought tolerant grass species recommended for central Texas include

Drought Resistant Grasses - So, what is drought-tolerant grass? Basically, it's an already-established grass that has the ability to withstand the stresses of prolonged dry spells on a regular basis, without sustaining lasting damage. Cool weather grasses like rye and fescue do not do well in drought periods and may not survive hot and dry Austin summers. The following table compares the characteristics of the most common drought resistant turf grasses.

GrassStrainOriginSunMowingStays green without waterWater required to stay greenFoot trafficFertilize scheduleSeed cost per Ft2
BermudaMaya SaharaNon-nativeFull SunHigh in growing season4-5 weeks1-2 inches per weekExcellentEvery six weeks in growing season10-15¢
Buffalo and Buffalo mixesTakhomaNativeFull & part shadeLow5-7 weeks¼ to ½" per weekGood1-2 times a year25-35¢
ZoysiaZenithNon-nativeFull & part shadeLow3-4 weeks1-1½" per weekGood3-4 times a year25-35¢

Soil Temperature - Soil temperature can influence the health and growth of lawns. High soil temperatures can reduce root growth and nutrient uptake which affects yield. High temperatures also increase soil evaporation so more water is lost. High temperatures can make soil inhospitable to beneficial organisms such as worms or nitrogen fixing bacteria. In most plants, as soil temperature increases above 86 degrees, root growth slows and nutrient uptake diminishes. Some grasses stop root growth when soil temperatures reach 90 degrees F.

Soil temperatures in central Texas can reach in excess of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Try and keep the soil temperature low in times of drought and extreme heat. The following are several approaches that can be used to keep the soil temperature lower.

Increase mowing height - Adjust the mowing height to two inches or more. Taller turf or pastures will provide shade on the ground and keep the soil temperature up to 15 degrees lower the ambient air temps.

Mulch the ground - Don't bag your grass clippings. A layer of mulch can help protect the ground from direct sunlight, slowing water loss and keeping the ground from excessive heating.

Follow recommended fertilization schedule - A healthy plant and root structure promotes drought tolerance. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers in drought or excessive heat.

Adjust your watering schedule - Water more frequently in the mornings and evenings to cool the soil. Avoid watering in the heat of the day to avoid evaporation and temperature swings in the soil. One method is by maintaining turgidity (water pressure in a plant's cells). Grass irrigated regularly has a high turgidity and remains upright.

Drought-tolerant grasses attempt to keep their turgidity when water content is low by reducing cell size and closing up leaf pores to prevent the release of water (transpiration). Slowing down the release of water also slows down the grass plant's ability to make its own food (photosynthesis). As the soil dries out, the grass gradually loses turgidity and wilts. Basically, the plant enters survival mode by no longer putting water and energy into active growth.

Deeper Roots - Another method is to grow deeper roots. This requires six or more inches of topsoil, which can be hard to find in central Texas. Fully established grass plants are able to grow a deep, extensive web of roots that can access water far beneath the surface, allowing them to tolerate a drought longer.
This is why it's important to irrigate once a week for long enough that the water penetrates the soil to a greater depth. Then, when the grass becomes water-stressed, it will send its roots further down towards the moisture. Daily irrigation for less than an hour will only create shallow surface roots. The application of a high phosphate fertilizer will help root development.

Dormancy - Drought-tolerant grasses have a better ability to go dormant and turn brown in response to extended drought conditions. This is a method of protecting themselves and focusing on keeping their roots alive. When water becomes available, they can regenerate from crowns stolons and/or rhizomes. The length of dormancy depends on the overall health of the grass plants, and the genetics of the species.
Need a drought resistant lawn - Call Austin Hydroseed Today - 512-762-0315

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