4 Signs of Drought Stress in Lawns


We all look forward to summer, eager to spend more time outdoors, relaxing, and soaking in the warm weather. It's a season where we enjoy barbecues, picnics, and outdoor activities that help us unwind and reduce stress.

However, while summer is a time of rejuvenation for us, it can be quite the opposite for your lawn. The long stretches of dry weather and soaring temperatures can take a toll on even the healthiest patches of grass, causing them to dry and wither.

What Causes Drought Stress?

Heat and drought stress occurs when your lawn experiences significant moisture loss during consistently hot, dry weather, often compounded by water restrictions. Diagnosing drought stress isn't always straightforward because the symptoms can resemble other lawn issues like pests or diseases. The good news is that there are some common indicators to look out for.

Identifying Drought Stress in Your Lawn

Recognizing the signs of drought stress allows you to prevent long-term damage and take necessary measures, such as repairing with grass plugs, to ensure your lawn remains a vibrant part of your summer fun.

1. Color Changes

A lawn deprived of moisture doesn't immediately turn brown. In the early stages of drought stress, it may take on a bluish-gray or purplish hue. In severe cases, your lawn may start to turn brown and appear dead as it enters pre-dormancy in an attempt to conserve energy. However, this symptom can be tricky, as other issues like pests and diseases can result in similar browning.

You can observe the pattern of color changes to determine the issue at play more accurately. Drought-stressed grass tends to brown from the tips towards the roots, whereas pests or fungi usually lead to random lesions on the blades. Recognizing these patterns can help you address the underlying issue more effectively and take appropriate measures to revive your lawn.

2. Folding or Curling

Healthy, well-watered grass blades are usually straight and upright. However, when the grass begins to dry out, the blades will fold or curl inward to reduce sun exposure and conserve water. This also gives your lawn a dull appearance, as the backs of the blades are not as green as their fronts.

This is a pre-dormant stage where the grass tries to protect itself from further damage. At this point, you can generally revive your lawn with a thorough, deep watering. Early detection and action will prevent your lawn from progressing to a more severe drought state, keeping it healthier in the long run.

3. Delayed Spring Back

A healthy lawn should spring back to an upright position immediately after being walked upon. Footprints or tire tracks that last more than 10 seconds on the grass are a clear sign of drought stress.

This poor recovery indicates that your grass is not receiving adequate moisture, causing it to lose resilience and struggle to recover from pressure. It is often one of the first symptoms of drought stress, even before the grass turns brown. It also explains why it's advisable to reduce foot traffic during drought to avoid trauma to the grass.

4. Dry Soil

Well-hydrated soil looks dark, moist, and crumbly. In contrast, dry soil appears lighter and may look cracked, especially in thin areas like the edges of driveways, sidewalks, and curbs. Clay soils are particularly prone to cracking when dry. Additionally, a lack of moisture can result in soil compaction.

One simple test is to push the metal end of a screwdriver into the ground. If you can easily insert the tool to a depth of 6-8 inches, your lawn is likely moist enough. If there is resistance, your lawn is likely drought-stressed and requires additional watering.


How to Recover Grass from Heat and Drought Stress

Understanding and recognizing the signs of drought stress can help you take proactive steps to protect and keep your lawn healthy. By acting immediately at the first signs of stress, you can prevent damage and keep your lawn looking its best.

Water More Often As Necessary

Most warm-season grasses require about 1-1.5 inches of water per week, with the moisture penetrating 6-8 inches deep. However, during extended periods of hot and dry weather, it’s essential to increase watering to compensate for the increased water loss. This ensures that your grass receives enough moisture to stay healthy and resilient.

Deep watering is crucial as it encourages roots to grow deeper into the soil, improving the grass's drought resistance. The best time to water is in the early morning, between 5 and 9 am, when temperatures are cooler, and the water can soak in effectively rather than evaporating. This practice helps conserve water and ensures you maximize each watering session.

Leave Your Grass Taller

Taller grass shades the soil, protecting the crowns and roots from overexposure to the sun and preventing them from drying out. When mowing, adjust the blades to the highest recommended height for your grass type, generally up to 3 inches for most warm-season grasses. This height helps retain soil moisture and reduces heat stress.

Mow regularly to avoid removing more than one-third of the grass length in a single session, as cutting too much at once can further stress the lawn. Additionally, mulching grass clippings on your lawn provides a protective cover and recycles nutrients into the soil, contributing to healthier grass growth.


Aerating your lawn relieves soil compaction by removing soil plugs, allowing water, air, and nutrients to penetrate the soil and reach the root zone effectively. This practice stimulates new growth and promotes the recovery of drought-damaged grass. Aeration also encourages stronger root development, helping your lawn better withstand the summer heat and thrive during dry periods.

Check for Other Issues

As you work to recover your lawn from drought stress, take this opportunity to check for other potential issues, such as pests or diseases, that may be contributing to its decline. Pests like grubs or chinch bugs can cause significant damage by feeding on the roots, while diseases like brown patch or dollar spot can create unsightly patches and weaken the grass.

Addressing these issues promptly through appropriate treatments will ensure your lawn remains healthy and resilient. Consult our list of the five common fungi in lawns and guide on where to look for signs of pests in your lawn.


Repair Drought Damage with Grass Plugs

After an extended period of heat and drought, your grass may go dormant, turning completely brown without dying, as its way of survival. As long as your grass is prepared to endure these challenging conditions, your lawn should green up again and recover when sufficient water becomes available.

If your lawn or some areas struggle to bounce back, grass plugs emerge as a convenient solution to fill in bare or thinning areas. These small sections of mature grass with established root systems guarantee faster establishment than seed, restoring a lush, dense, and uniform look to your lawn.

For best results, we recommend using NutriPod® grass fertilizer. Its slow-release formula provides a steady supply of essential nutrients, helping the new grass adapt to its environment and strengthening your lawn.

Final Thoughts

With a comprehensive, multi-step approach to lawn maintenance that involves proper mowing, watering, and fertilizing, you can protect your lawn from drought stress and keep it healthy, green, and resilient throughout the summer.

Ready to get started? Shop for a wide range of fresh, high-quality grass plugs for sale at the SodPods® website.

Jamie Tedder

Jamie surrently serve as Vice President on the board for Turfgrass Producers of Florida. He currently oversees the production of all grasses throughout all farms in Florida at Bethel Farms. He is actively working with top grass breeders, researchers, producers and end users from public and private institutions around the country to stay up to date on current industry developments. Being a University of Florida graduate, he has applied that knowledge to over 22 years of experience growing spectacular grass!

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