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The 4 Stages of Lawn Drought Stress

A brown and patchy lawn may indicate drought stress
Last updated: 6/8/21
Estimated read time: 2 minutes


As water becomes limited and the temperatures soar, your lawn might give off signs that it is in distress.   Learn what signs to look for, and how to properly water your lawn. 

Stage 1: Early Signs of Drought Stress

  • Wilting, changes in color, purpling (or moisture stress), are the beginning stages of drought. Not all grass will turn brown right may notice a blueish-gray color before. This is the beginning stage of drought stress. Purpling causes grass to turn a slight purple or grayish appearance. 
  • Dry soil. You can check to see if your soil is dry and lacking water by using a screwdriver. Simply push it into your should be able to easily stick it 6 to 8 inches into your soil.  
  • Thriving weeds. While grass struggles in the heat, weeds love it.  

Stage 2: Signs of Drought Stress

  • Curling Gass Blades: In an attempt to conserve moisture, the individual blades will begin to fold. This happens due to unequal moisture reserves in your lawn. It’s also the stage right before all lawn growth stops. At this stage, you are still able to revive your lawn with proper watering. 
  • Footprints or mower lines left behind. If you walk or drive on your lawn and notice footprints or mower tracks, your lawn is lacking in water making it less elastic. Healthy lawns will spring back, but drought-stressed lawns will not. This is often the first sign of drought stress before your lawn will start to brown. We recommend keeping foot traffic to a minimum during this period to reduce trauma to the grass.

Stage 3: Pre-Dormancy

The preliminary stage of dormancy is when your lawn halts all growth to ration its resources.

  • Brown Patchy areas. Your lawn will begin to turn brown and may appear patchy, showing dying grass. Recovery can happen with heavy watering for 10-14 days. 

Stage 4: Dormancy

  • In dormancy, your lawn will turn completely brown and begin to thin. Recovery at this stage includes thorough, deep, and repeated watering over a period of 14 to 21 days.

Tips for Watering Your Lawn

Watering your lawn is an important part of lawn care. You should water your lawn in the early morning hours (to avoid evaporation) and avoid over-watering. Your entire lawn needs at least an inch of water each week for optimum growth and health.

Here are some more tips for watering your lawn:

  • Water early in the mornings 2-3 times per week for approximately 45 minutes per area.

  • Avoid watering at night. During hot and humid conditions this can increase the chances of disease in your lawn. 

  • You do more harm to your lawn by watering on and off than by not watering at all, so make sure you have a consistent watering schedule.

  • Tip: To get a precise estimate for how long you should leave the water running, lay empty tuna cans on your lawn, run your sprinklers, and time how long it takes until there’s an inch of water in the cans.

Learning how to spot drought stress in Maryland and Virginia can give you the opportunity to recover your lawn in time for fall and winter dormancy. If you have questions or are worried your lawn is stressed, give Blades of Green a call at 410-346-3451. We are the leading lawn care company in Maryland and NoVa, and we’d be happy to bring your lawn back to health


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