I was excited to take the train home to my parents’ place in southwestern Ontario for the holiday weekend, but my heart sank as we passed through fields that were showing serious signs of heat stress. Scorched by the relentless summer sun and in desperate need of extended rain, the cornstalks have tassled several weeks prematurely (a telltale symptom of drought, and a harbinger of a substandard harvest come fall), and look more like brittle aloe vera than the swaying green stalks I remember from my childhood summers on the farm. Although there’s -- tragically -- very little a farmer can do to rescue thousands of acres of parched crops, we can battle drought in our own backyards by following a few simple steps. Here are five of your best bets for a healthier patch, courtesy of Home Hardware’s gardening expert, Mark Cullen. [caption id="attachment_223" align="aligncenter" width="410" caption="Mark's Choice 20" push reel lawn mower with grass catcher, $180, Home Hardware. Photography courtesy of Home Hardware."] [/caption] 1 LAY OFF THE LAWN MOWER You’ve got two options when it comes to mowing your lawn during a drought: either cut it less frequently, or set the blade deck higher. According to Cullen, longer grass blades produce deeper roots, “and deep roots help foster a drought-resistant, healthier-looking lawn.” To keep your lawn lush and moist, Cullen’s rule of thumb is to take off no more than one-third of the grass blade each time you mow. 2 RIDE OUT THE DROUGHT Another way to drive grass roots deeper is to water your lawn less frequently. In fact, during a drought, Cullen says it’s often best to avoid watering your lawn completely. “Instead, let your lawn go dormant and wait for late August’s lower temperatures and heavy morning dew to naturally bring moisture back to your yard,” he says. [caption id="attachment_224" align="aligncenter" width="410" caption="Mark's Choice 50-foot irrigator soaker hose, $15, Home Hardware. Photography courtesy of Home Hardware."] [/caption] 3 WATER DEEPLY If you must water your garden, Cullen recommends using a slow-release soaker hose. These models can help slash water consumption by providing a slow, even “bleeding” of moisture to the root zone of plants where its most needed, while reducing the risk of evaporation. 4 KEEP OFF THE GRASS! A thirsty lawn has a hard enough time conserving its resources without having to deal with heavy traffic. By walking on grass, you’re packing down the soil, adding a further stressor to an already-stressed-to-the-max patch. [caption id="attachment_225" align="aligncenter" width="410" caption="Mark's Choice 42-gallon Flatback rain barrel, $164, Home Hardware. Photography courtesy of Home Hardware."] [/caption] 5 INVEST IN A RAIN BARREL The forecast for the GTA is calling for a few days of much-needed rain, so make the most of it by collecting it from your downspouts with a rain barrel. “Rain water is soft, chlorine-free, and when it falls from the sky it is oxygen-charged,” says Cullen. “ It’s the water that plants prefer and it’s free, so why not give it to them whenever possible?” How is your yard coping with this relentless heatwave?