Is Your Lawn Struggling? 5 Symptoms of Drought Stress

Florida summers can be particularly harsh on lawns. The long stretches of dry weather and rising temperatures, compounded by water restrictions, can damage even the healthiest lawn, causing it to succumb to drought stress. These environmental challenges often result in visibly struggling lawns, showing signs such as curled blades and a graying color.

Understanding the warning signs of drought stress in your lawn allows you to take the necessary measures to keep it lush and green or at least help it recover quickly after a dry spell. This article will explore the signs your lawn is giving and answer important questions, such as whether you should apply lawn fertilizer to drought-stressed grass.

Identifying Drought Stress in Your Lawn

If you suspect your lawn is suffering from drought stress, there are signs you can look for, as well as simple tests to identify whether that is causing browning blades, wilting, or even the demise of your grass.

1. Discoloration

A healthy lawn usually ranges from light to dark green, but when a lawn is underwatered and beginning to experience drought stress, the grass can take on a bluish-gray or purplish hue. This early warning sign suggests that your grass is starting to suffer from a lack of moisture. If your lawn appears brown and patchy, the issue may not be just underwatering; pests and diseases could also be contributing factors. A closer inspection can help determine whether drought stress is the sole problem or other lawn issues are at play.

2. Curling

Grass blades will start to curl inward as they attempt to conserve moisture. This is a pre-dormant stage where the grass tries to protect itself from further damage. You can often revive your lawn at this stage with a thorough, deep watering. By recognizing this sign early, you can take action to prevent your lawn from progressing to a more severe state of drought stress.

3. Lingering Footprints and Tire Tracks

A healthy, well-hydrated lawn will spring back quickly after being walked on or mowed. However, a drought-stressed lawn will not recover as easily, leaving footprints or tire tracks visible on the dry grass. This lack of elasticity clearly indicates that your lawn is not getting enough water. This explains why you should reduce foot traffic during drought periods to reduce trauma to the grass. Poor recovery is often one of the first symptoms of drought stress, even before the grass turns brown.

4. Dry, Gapped, Cracked Soil

You can check if your soil is adequately hydrated by pushing the metal end of a screwdriver into the ground. The tool should penetrate easily to a 6-8 inches depth if water levels are sufficient. If it’s difficult to push in, your lawn is likely drought-stressed. Visually, dry soil is lighter in color and may have a cracked appearance, especially in thin areas like the edges of curbs, driveways, and sidewalks. Clay soils are particularly prone to cracking when dry. On the other hand, properly hydrated soil will be darker, moist, and crumbly.

5. Browning

As your lawn enters pre-dormancy to conserve resources, it may start to turn brown and appear dead and patchy. By observing the pattern of discoloration, you can distinguish drought-induced browning from pest or fungal damage. Grass suffering from drought will brown from the tip towards the roots, whereas pests or fungi typically cause 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.

By understanding these signs of drought stress, you can take proactive steps to protect and maintain the health of your lawn. Regular monitoring and timely interventions will ensure your lawn stays lush and green, even during the harshest summer conditions.


How to Protect Grass from Drought Stress

Adopting specific care practices that support your lawn's health and resilience can safeguard it from drought stress.

Increase Watering

During periods of intense heat and drought, provide supplemental watering to keep your lawn adequately hydrated. In southern regions with hot and dry climates, you may need to water every other day instead of the usual 1-2 times per week to maintain a green lawn. Deep watering is key to encourage roots to grow deeper into the soil, making the grass more drought-resistant. 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 rather than evaporate.

Raise Your Mowing Height

Adjusting the mower blades to the highest recommended height for your grass type, generally 2.5 to 3 inches for most warm-season grasses, can significantly benefit your lawn. Taller grass shades the soil, protecting the crowns from the harsh sun and reducing water evaporation. Never remove more than one-third of the grass length in a single mowing session to prevent stress. Additionally, consider leaving grass clippings on the lawn. This practice, known as grasscycling, provides extra shade and recycles nutrients into the soil, contributing to healthier growth.


Preparing your lawn for extreme weather should start ahead of the summer season. Aerating your lawn in the spring helps alleviate soil compaction by removing cores of soil, allowing water, air, and nutrients to penetrate the soil and reach the root zone. This process encourages stronger root development, improving your lawn's ability to withstand the summer heat.

Diagnose for Other Issues

If, after taking these measures, your lawn's health continues to decline, other damaging conditions, such as pests or diseases, might be at play. Take a closer look at your lawn to verify. Consult our guide on where to look for signs of pests in your lawn or our list of common signs of fungal infection on grass.


Should You Fertilize Drought-Stressed Grass?

Fertilizing your lawn during drought stress is generally not recommended, as the roots struggle to absorb nutrients effectively due to inadequate water. This can lead to a nutrient build-up in the soil, causing fertilizer burn and further stressing the grass.

Additionally, fertilizers are designed to encourage growth, but during drought, the grass should focus on survival rather than growth. Applying fertilizer in these conditions can push the grass to grow more than it can sustain, ultimately weakening your lawn and making it more vulnerable to damage.

How to Recover Grass From Drought Stress

In severe heat and drought stress, your lawn may go dormant, turning completely brown and thinning out. This doesn't mean your lawn is dead. Rather, it's a natural survival mechanism. With proper maintenance, your lawn should green up again and fully recover once the weather becomes more favorable.

If some areas of your lawn struggle to bounce back, grass plugs can be a convenient solution to repair the damage. Grass plugs are small sections of mature grass that can be planted to fill in bare or thinning areas. They establish quickly, filling in patches and helping to restore a uniform look to your lawn.

For new grass plugs, 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.


By focusing on proper watering, mowing, fertilizing, and soil care, you can protect your lawn from drought stress and keep it healthy and resilient throughout the summer. These practices ensure your lawn remains lush and green despite challenging weather conditions.

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