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Environmental Horticulture (Gardening)

Reducing the Effects of Drought

One of the times you are most counted on is during a drought. Follow guidelines for local water restrictions, if applicable. By your participation, you contribute to water conservation efforts and water quality in your area.

What happens to soil nutrients during a drought? The good news is - nothing. It does not change soil composition or structure. The nutrients are not lost or evaporated from the soil.

But heavy rainfall after a dry period can wash away heavy clay, and with the clay go your valuable nutrients and topsoil. This is not caused by the drought, but by the structure of clay soil; it is made up of very small particles which are easily dispersed by water. This leads to erosion and nutrient loss. There are several ways to hold on to your soil and improve nutrient quality:

Incorporate organic matter into clays and other soil types to improve soil structure.

  • Mulch to conserve moisture and control soil splashing.
  • Use drip irrigation near the base of plants to reduce run-off.


There is no substitute for water during a dry spell. The correct time to water has always been a controversial issue, and the proper time to water a garden or lawn may be a bad time for most working people. Using a timed irrigation system is one of the best ways to conserve water and time, but for those who don't want to make that kind of investment, there are some general tips to follow:

The best watering time is early morning, when humidity is high and moisture loss is minimal.

Afternoon watering should be avoided. Irrigating during the day results in a 20-25% loss of water through heat and evaporation, and if foliage is watered, it can create a magnifying-glass effect that will burn leaf tissue. If a plant shows signs of drought stress in the afternoon, do apply water, but at the base of the stem.

Watering in the evening conserves water as well, but it increases the risk of fungal disease and damage from nocturnal insects searching for water.

Dormancy or Death:

With sparse rainfall, the least of your worries is your lawn. Mother Nature has provided the grass plant with a built-in protection plan - dormancy. The lawn will turn brown as moisture reserves dry up, but it is far from dead. By going into a dormant state deeper than its winter dormancy, the grass plant halts the process of photosynthesis. Production of new growth is arrested. This also explains why grass grows at a slower pace in hot, dry periods. When rains do come and drought stress ends, the grass will green up, especially fescues, bluegrass, Zoysia, and Bermuda grass.

Restrict the use of herbicides because it tends to stress the lawn as it tries to detoxify the chemical. And when a lawn becomes brown during a dry spell, the last thing that is needed is fertilizer. Application of fertilizer at this time can kill your lawn. It's like telling someone who has just finished running a full marathon to run another ten miles.

Additional information can be found at: 10 Strategies To Deal With Drought