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I live in Dallas, Texas and we've been having some pretty crazy heat this year.

I try to water my lawn 3 to 4 times a week so my grass doesn't all die. My lawn is doing pretty well considering how dry it's been here, but I have been noticing these really large cracks in different places that are due to the dryness.

My friend said that his lawn does that pretty much every year and they will eventually fill in once it starts raining again.

I'm wondering if there is anything I can do to either prevent or lessen the cracking in my lawn. Also, could these cracks potentially cause a foundation issue?

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@Mike I have each zone set for 20 minutes. That is a really good idea. I'm going to check into that. –  Robert Greiner Aug 5 '11 at 20:43
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4 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

You may also wish to take the time to have a browse through the below site, as it directly relates to lawns in your local area:

I highly recommend you listen to, "You Bet Your Garden" podcast -- Not So Perfect Produce, 27the August 2011 (Direct link to MP3) and start listening at 13mins:27secs in.

How to water your lawn perfectly with Guy Fipps, PhD, P.E., Director of the Irrigation Technology Center at Texas A&M University.

Q. What type of lawn do you have, warm-season or cool-season?

I would guess you have a warm-season lawn, seeing as you're in Texas, but if you could please confirm one-way or the other, and also the type of grass that makes up your lawn, that would be useful to know.

I have Bermuda grass...

Ok! you have a warm-season lawn.

Q. How high do you mow your lawn ie How tall is the grass after you've finished mowing?

Depending on your grass type and the answer given to the above question, you "might" be better served mowing at a higher height.

You haven't yet said how high you mow your lawn, but we do now know you have a warm-season lawn, therefore my recommendations are:

  • Early in the growing season (early to mid Spring) as the grass is coming out of Winter dormancy, cut your lawn at 1½ to 2inches (37.5 to 50mm), then from late Spring onward move the cutting height on your lawnmower up, 2inches (50mm) minimum, 2½inches (62.5mm) would be better.

Q. How much water do you give your lawn during each watering?

If you're not sure, do something like the following to measure the amount of water:

  • Put a empty, shallow (tuna) can in the middle on the watering zone and measure the depth of the contents after your sprinkling system has turned itself off after 20 minutes.

I give the lawn about 1/3" 3 times a week. I think I'm going to the twice a week at 1/2" you were suggesting.

For a lawn to remain alive (instead of allowing it to go into dormancy) during extreme heat and drought, it needs at least 1inch (25mm) of water per week. The 1inch (25mm) of water is best delivered via either:

  • One deep watering a week that delivers a minimum of 1inch (25mm).

  • Or two waterings a week, each one delivering a minimum of ½inch (12.5mm).

Watering a lawn more than twice a week (even during extreme heat & drought) has a negative effect on the lawn ie

  • It encourages the grass to develop a shallow root system, where as what you really want to do, especially in a situation like yours, is encourage the grass to develop a deep root system, make it go deeper to look for water below the surface.

  • Frequent watering also increases the possibility of diseases developing in your lawn.

I'm also going to look into adding compost to the lawn this fall. My dad was also saying that I could buy some gardening sand to fill the cracks in. Would you recommend this?

Personally I wouldn't add sand in your particular situation. Why?

Yes, sand is an excellent drainage material and will aid water getting down deep into your soil, but I believe you want to try and close up those cracks and prevent them from returning, therefore I think you would be better served by making the top 12 to 18inches (300 to 450mm) of soil as fertile as possible, thus allowing that soil zone to hold as much water as it can. That said, I would fill those cracks with finely sieved (¼inch/6.25mm) compost (maybe with some gardening sand mixed in) & compost tea.

I would seriously look into improving your soil below your lawn. How?

Below are a couple of things I've done (and continue to do for the most part):

  • Spread 1inch (25mm) of compost all over the surface of the lawn twice a year.

    • Once in the Spring - did that for 3 years, stopped doing it this year.

    • And once in the Autumn (Fall) - have done that the past 3 years and will continue to do it, as part of my Autumn (Fall) lawn care maintenance programme.

  • Make 5 gallons of compost tea each week (from late Spring to earlier Autumn "Fall") and apply the 5 gallon batch to the front garden one week, then the following week apply a new fresh 5 gallon batch to the back garden. I repeat that cycle for the period given previously. I have been doing this for 2 years now, and without question I have noticed a massive increase in worm activity eg lots of worm castings on the surface of the soil.

The transformation from what I started with, to what I have now, is (almost) unbelievable...

You can read more about my lawn care practices here on SE Gardening. I've now added a few photos to that post, especially take not of the 4 photos labelled "... after 4 weeks of continuous +95°F (35°C) heat, almost zero rain, watered once a week (per above) and not mowed during that time". Maybe last year, but most definitely 2 years ago I would have lost about a ⅓ of the grass in my back garden and would have had cracks in the soil that I could've stuck my fingers down into after going through such an excessive heat period. I'm not saying my lawn and/or soil are now perfect, but without a shadow of a doubt they're improving, getting better each year...

Hopefully with your help my lawn will be the envy of the neighborhood in no time!

Don't expect instant miracles, if you do, I'm afraid you will be somewhat disappointed and may get a little frustrated due to lack of (instant) progress. In reality it's going to take at least a year or two before you see any noticeable improvement, but I guarantee if you do stick with it, you will end up reaping huge! rewards and personal satisfaction from seeing the transformation...

Q. Also, could these cracks potentially cause a foundation issue?

The cracks in the soil won't directly cause any issues with the foundation of your house.

Below are a few things that factor into potential foundation problems when dealing with excessive drying out of the soil:

  1. Depth to underside of foundations.

  2. What type of soil the foundations bear on.

  3. How wide the foundations are ie The bearing area onto the soil.

    • Excessive drying out of the soil causes the soil to "contract" (shrink), if this occurs to a large enough extent (along with factoring in the above 3 points, plus some I'm sure I've missed) it can possibly cause the foundations to settle.

    • If after an excessive drying out period, the soil suddenly becomes "super saturated", thus causing the soil to "suddenly" expand, this (along with factoring in the above 3 points, plus some I'm sure I've missed) can possibly result in ground heave that exerts enough upward force to push the foundations up.

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I have Bermuda grass and give the lawn about 1/3" 3 times a week. I think I'm going to the twice a week at 1/2" you were suggesting. I'm also going to look into adding compost to the lawn this fall. My dad was also saying that I could buy some gardening sand to fill the cracks in. Would you recommend this? Thanks for your thorough answer. Hopefully with your help my lawn will be the envy of the neighborhood in no time! –  Robert Greiner Aug 8 '11 at 14:13
    
@Robert Greiner, no worries and good luck. Also I've addressed you above comments in my "edited" answer. –  Mike Perry Aug 8 '11 at 17:52
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All you can do is keep the ground as watered as possible. I'm in Bedford, so I'm having the same problems. The major thing to keep track of is that the soil around the foundation of your house doesn't start to pull away; that can cause thousands of dollars in damage as the foundation loses its footing. Other than that, the cracks will fill in when the rains return.

This is a normal cycle; it's a strong La Nina year, the opposite to El Nino. The Pacific Ocean is cooler than normal off the California coast, so there's less moisture in the prevailing west winds south of the Jet Stream (and those winds are weaker), so we get very low humidity meaning even the Gulf moisture from the south just gets sucked into the air mass around us. By contrast, the northern latitudes get drenched because the overall cooler temperatures above the jet stream can hold less of the water from the warming Arctic regions. In an El Nino year it's almost completely reversed.

This may sound terrible, but pray for a few hurricanes to hit the Texas coast between Corpus and Houston. If they hit there, they should take a sharp right and head north as they hit land and the lower eddies of the Jet Stream, dumping loads of rain on the Metroplex (and if it hits closer to Corpus, it'll drench Austin too, where my parents live). Only trouble is that the best path a hurricane can take to dump the kind of rain we need is the one Rita took; right through Galveston and Houston, then up 45.

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Crazy... I probably live only 2-3 miles from you. :P –  Michael Aug 6 '11 at 9:12
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I used to live in Texas and I know just what you mean. :) Keeping the ground moist is all you can do to try to prevent it. As far as your foundation goes yes it can cause some serious problems. the only thing that you can do to prevent it is to water around your foundation. Make sure that you are not starting to develop cracks in the ground around your foundation because it could cause the foundation to crack and sink into the whole from the graound. I am sure you have been in many homes out there where you can see cracks in people's sheetrock and cieling. That is what causes that. It can also be very expensive to repair.

I would make sure that you water around you foundation at least once a day durring your killer dry spell. If Dallas county puts a watering band into effect (which they will do i am sure) Screw the grass and water around that foundation.

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that's kind of what I was thinking. I have a sprinkler zone that covers the entire foundation, so I think I will make sure to water that more. The grass along the perimeter of the house seems grow better than the rest of my yard, maybe that's because of the shade it gets. –  Robert Greiner Aug 5 '11 at 20:07
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The cracking is from the clay. Texas soil has a lot of it, which is why we can't have basements, why it's so hard to dig, etc. It grows and shrinks, depending on water content, much more than soil that has higher organic matter or sand content. Your only two options are either to water it or to sprinkle top soil/compost/whatever on it... anything to get the clay content down.

As Mike Perry says, keep your grass long (2-4".) Cutting it short (i.e. <2") is a bad idea in the summer.

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