How to revive your drought-ravaged lawn, according to a golf-course superintendent

brown lawn

The timeframe for lawn recovery depends on the severity of the damage.

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“Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact,” according to Bruce Springsteen, who might have also noted that sometimes things just look dead and can be brought back.

Take turf, for instance.

As drought ravages large swaths of the country, browned-out patches proliferate on front lawns and fairways, but not all are beyond the point of no return.

Cody Elwood is the director of grounds and maintenance at Jimmie Austin Golf Club at the University of Oklahoma, and a 25-year-member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

We asked him how to tell if grass can still be saved, and what we can do to revive its prospects. He gave us four tips:

1. Check for a pulse

First things first. You’ll want to know if the grass still stands a chance.

“It all depends on turf type and location,” Elwood says.

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Homeowners with cool-season grasses will have a harder time reviving dormant turf than those tending to warm-season grasses. Either way, a simple test, Elwood says, is to see if any green tissue remains in the stems and shoots.

“If there is no green tissue, or healthy, white roots, it may be too late,” Elwood says.

But if there are any signs of life, there is still hope.

2. Water heavily

As in, two to three times a week in the early morning, when evaporation is at its lowest. Rehydrating the root system might take time, so don’t count on seeing overnight results.

The timeframe for recovery depends on the severity of the damage. If weather conditions remain hot and dry, Elwood recommends cooling any green grass in the middle of the day with a few minutes of irrigation, as that will help relieve stress on the turf.

3. Use a wetting agent

As the name suggests, wetting agents help draw in water and retain moisture in the soil, where the turf can slurp it up into its root system. These products are easy to apply and readily available at home and garden stores.

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4. Go easy on the grass

Just as you shouldn’t kick a person when they’re down, you shouldn’t punish grass when it’s struggling. Keep the kids off it. Don’t walk on it yourself.

And hold off on the mowing, especially during the heat of the day. Wait until the temperatures cool off and the turf rebounds before you resume grooming. And even then, consider shifting to a higher cut until the grass has fully recovered.

Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.