Horticulture News: Dry weather taking toll on gardens, landscapes

By Kim Cowherd Published:

Franklin County is currently experiencing some very dry weather, which impacts our home lawns, gardens and landscapes. According to the UK Ag Weather Center, we are currently experiencing drought conditions, and there is no sign of relief for this week. Our lawn, landscape plants and gardens need special consideration during times of drought such as this.

One of the most important factors to understand is that many plants will slow their growth and become dormant in this type of weather stress.

Older and well-established trees, shrubs, perennials, and lawns may wilt, lose leaves or turn brown. This is only a protection mechanism for the plant and most often, once regular rainfall and cooler temperatures return, these plants will come back to life. Watering can sometimes be detrimental to plants that have gone into early dormancy.

Homeowners must begin to consider how they can conserve water not only in their everyday home use, but also in the landscape and garden.

Summer is not the time for planting trees and shrubs. Wait until fall when weather conditions are more favorable. Digging when the soil is too dry (and too wet) can destroy soil structure. There also needs to be some natural moisture in the soil in order for the plant to begin to generate new roots. Dig down and check how dry the area around a tree is before planting or watering.

Mulch and compost

Mulching and compost use are valuable tools in conserving what moisture there is in the soil around garden and landscape plants. Mulching can be done at any time and also helps keep roots cool, holds in moisture, and improves soil. Using newspaper, bark mulch, compost, grass clippings (as long as there have been no herbicides applied) are all good choices.

Consider the following best management practices for your lawn that will give maximum survival and quality during this time. Mow high (2.5 to 3 inches) and as infrequently as possible to keep it at this height. Do not mow if the lawn does not need it. If all you are mowing are weeds, it is best to not damage the lawn more by extra traffic with the mower.

Maybe the lawn can be dressed up a tad by string trimming tall weeds, just above the height of the turf. Never mow during the heat of the day, especially when temperatures reach near 90 F and soil moisture is limited. Always mow with a sharp mower blade. Don’t allow foot or other traffic on a crusty, dry lawn.

Fertilization and fall weed controls should be postponed until the dry conditions lessen. Application of lawn chemicals can further damage dry, toasted grass plants.

How to water

If you must water trees, shrubs, lawns or perennial plants, do this early in the morning. This is important because evaporative loss is lower and there is less potential for disease problems. Slowly soak the plants, applying at least one inch of water per week.

Always water deeply and infrequently. Using a soaker hose, or a hose with a slow trickle of water, set under the drip line of trees or shrubs and move periodically. It can take several hours to get adequate moisture on larger plants. Don’t use a fan or overhead sprinkler during the heat of the day, much of the water will be lost to evaporation.

Some water saving practices you might consider in managing your lawn are garden:

nStop watering lawns and let them go dormant.

>Decide what are your most valuable woody and perennial plants and water them appropriately.

nUse “waste” water from bathtubs, sinks, cooking and other collection points for watering plants and gardens.

>Direct gutters into rain barrels or large tubs, so when we do get any rain, that moisture can be used for watering plants.

>Pull plants that are in decline and non-productive in the vegetable or flower garden and compost them.

As we move into the heat of the summer, keep in mind that the effects of this dry period will continue to become apparent and may worsen.

Woody plants and perennials may not be as vigorous or loose leaves earlier. Lawns may grow slowly and go dormant. Fertilization applications should not be applied to any plants that are under drought stress. In the future, consider planting species of trees, shrubs, flowers and turf grass that are more drought and heat tolerant.

Using this information and giving careful thought to how you use water in your garden and landscape will save water, money and time.

For more information, visit ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id89/id89.pdf.

Contact the Franklin County Extension Office for more information regarding drought, water conservation and other horticulture and agriculture issues at 695-9035 or email Kim.Cowherd@uky.edu.

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