Dealing with post drought lawn

51bH4nPP-WL__SL500_AA300_Like almost everyone in this area by lawn suffered horribly during the drought last summer. We had too little time, too few hoses and sprinklers and way too much acreage to even keep the worst of the damage at bay. We have huge patches that are entirely dead. At first we tried to pretend it was dormant, but really?! Grass just can’t go dormant that long and have a prayer’s chance of coming back.

As fall was in full swing and we were facing winter, we asked a lawn care specialist to give us his best advice. First he told us that if we had watered for just 20 minutes each night we wouldn’t have had damage quite so extensive (water over the bridge on that one). Then he recommended sending his team in with a slit seeder to reseed the lawn before snowfall… for about $1,000 to do the entire yard and drainage areas. As that was way out of our budget, we opted for “Plan B,” which is renting a slit seeder and buying grass seed from the Farmers Co-op. A slit seeder is a push machine with huge blades that cut through thatch and sod while dropping grass seed.

Unfortunately knee surgery, lack of time and a very warm fall meant that we didn’t get the yard reseeded before cold winter hit. It’s a bit tricky to coordinate the timing because you don’t want new baby grass seedlings coming up and then being frozen by the snow. Optimally you want the spring summer melt of snow to water the seeds and the new grass to grow in the spring. Now we are seeding in the spring, which again has tricky timing issues because if you want to use a preemergent herbicide for weeds it will kill the new grass coming up too.

It will be a long process of

  • Purchasing top soil, grass seed, straw matts
  • Renting the slit seeder (thank you Middleton Power Center) and reseeding the nearly dead areas
  • Spreading shredded top soil over the totally dead areas and spreading new seed protected by straw
  • And watering, watering, watering
  • …probably a few complaints about sore backs and prayers that seedlings come up too.

Using the winter months to think and plan for a much better lawn, I purchased The Wisconsin Lawn Guide: Attaining and Maintaining the Lawn You Want by Melinda Myers. It is a great reference book. It begins with watering, fertilizing and mowing best practices.  I was very impressed with the section on turf varieties and what to look for when buying grass seed. By far my favorite part of the book are the appendices. The two tables on types of fertilizer and how much to put down – fantastic! The table with how to calculate mulch and soil quantities now has a big post-it note attached. And of course because of our current situation, another big post-it note is on the page with determining how much grass seed I need per square foot. This is a great read. I highly recommend picking up a copy.


About Kary Beck

Mother and wife, gardener, wine enthusiast, avid online bargain hunter, and owner of two black-and-tan cocker spaniels.
This entry was posted in Reviews & recommendations, Tips & tricks. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dealing with post drought lawn

  1. Jane says:

    We don’t have any completely dead patches, but have two side lawns that look like a jig-saw puzzle that may or may not need reseeding. We did not water these areas. We did, however, water our front lawn and it looks great! I wish I had done the south and east side of our house as well. I am hoping it will just fill in 🙂 My son works for the UW-Madison Turf grass center and now a soils expert. Guess you know where I will get my info!


  2. Steve says:

    All these years I’ve known you and I never knew you were a gardener, let alone blogging about it. Got my Horticulture degree from UW in ’81, always enjoy reading other peoples take on the “craft”.


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