Surviving a Drought

By on November 30, 2016

Surviving a drought

Landscape & Garden Editor Kevin Johnson Offers 
Ten Tips for Homeowners to Weather the Drought

What a difference a year makes. On December 24th of last year my family headed to Charlotte NC to attend a family function. As we drove along Hwy 19/129 the previous night’s torrential rains were obvious. Cabins were surrounded from water cresting the banks of Wolf Creek. A friend of mine said the Toccoa River nearly reached the Shallowford Bridge after several inches of rain fell in a short time. There was plenty of rain in 2015, but now we find ourselves in a drought that began in the spring.

“What is a drought?” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines drought as “a period of dryness especially when prolonged; specifically: one that causes extensive damage to crops or prevents their successful growth.” This definition would be the simplest summation of this unusually dry summer that we have been experiencing, and its effects on local agricultural enterprises and even homeowners.

Fannin County, where my family and I live, is currently in exceptional drought. Actually, a great portion of Georgia is in drought– either in extreme or exceptional drought– with no rain in sight. Although fall is the driest time of year in our area, fescue lawns should still be green and lush– instead they are brown and burnt without a drop of soil moisture. Creeks, rivers and lakes are all severely low. Lake Lanier– which supplies Atlanta’s drinking water– is currently 8 ft. below full pool. Lanier hasn’t been this low since the last drought about 4 years ago.

The city of Blairsville recently put an outdoor watering ban into effect for customers on their water system. This means no outside watering of lawns and landscapes and no washing of vehicles allowed because their water system cannot provide enough water to meet the demand. It appears that many other counties will soon put similar restrictions in place. Experts predict this drought to continue well into next year based on current models and forecasts. The question now becomes, how do we maintain our lawns and landscapes during drought and when outdoor watering bans are put in place?

Here are 10 Tips to Help You Weather the Drought

  1. Mow higher to encourage deeper roots. I recommend 5 inches during summer months for fescue lawns. Taller shoots promote deeper roots and a dense canopy can help to reduce ground surface temperatures and conserve moisture.
  2. Practice grasscycling. Grasscycling is the process of leaving clippings on the lawn at each mowing instead of bagging them. Research shows clippings work their way back into the grass. They act like a mulch at the soil surface, helping reduce moisture loss from the soil.
  3. Discontinue mowing if the lawn isn’t growing.
  4. Reduce fertilizer applications until conditions improve. Promoting heavy top growth amidst drought conditions increases water demand. Reduce rates or postpone fertilizer applications until environmental conditions improve to fully realize the benefits of fertilizer.
  5. Modify herbicide programs. Many herbicides act upon plant growth processes and can be less effective during periods of drought when weeds are not actively growing.
  6. If you still have the ability to water, water deeply and infrequently. The optimum watering schedule can be roughly determined by observing the number of days that pass between signs of moisture stress. Apply sufficient water to saturate the root zone to a depth of 6-8 inches.
• Water early in the morning to avoid evaporation.
• Keep your landscape mulched 2-3 inches deep to help maintain soil moisture.
  7. Remember that established landscape plants can sometimes go weeks without water.
  8. Use water wisely across all aspects of your life.

As population increases it’s only natural that our water levels will decrease. Researchers found a six-fold increase in water use for only a two-fold increase in population size in the United States since 1900. This affects everything from our food supply and natural resources to our precious wildlife, and of course your lansdscape. Those of us who make our living in the Green Industry are very sensitized to the effects of drought and encourage everyone to be more water-wise in their plant (and other) choices.

Thankfully winter is coming, which will take some of the pressure off, but in the meantime, I’ll be praying for rain.

Kevin Johnson is the owner of Green Leaf Lawn and Ornamental, LLC, based in Blue Ridge. For more information about the devastating hemlock woolly adelgid and treatment options, Kevin can 
be reached toll free at 866. 883. 2420 or by email at Or check out his web site at or visit for more info.