We might not have quite made it to the first official day of summer, but temperatures have certainly reached into summer levels. High temperatures, combined with dry weather, pose a threat to home landscapes. Vegetable gardens, lawns, and even trees and shrubs are all susceptible to the effects of heat and drought. It is better to be prepared for adverse weather conditions than to watch landscapes suffer. Here are a few tips to managing lawns and landscapes during hot, dry weather.
Learn to recognize wilting in turf plants. It is relatively easy to recognize wilting on a houseplant. The leaves droop and the stem may wither, and the whole plant may have a “dull” appearance. Because they are much smaller and thinner than houseplants, it is much more difficult to recognize drought stress in turf plants. The first symptom is a bluish cast to the leaf blades. Next, walk through the lawn looking back at your footsteps. If they are easily seen, the lawn is probably under drought stress. Third, the plants become thinner, and the grass blades tend to roll up instead of laying flat. Soil examination is also useful. Feel the soil at various levels of root depth to determine the moisture content.
If a lawn exhibits symptoms of drought stress, apply 1 inch of water. This amount will moisten the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. However, if you cannot apply this entire amount at once because of water running off from the lawn, apply about half an inch at a time and allow the water to soak in before you continue.
During drought periods, it is also important that landscape trees are watered on a regular basis. A good recommendation is to water three times per week during the summer months and twice a week during the spring and early fall if there is no rainfall. The simple and quick solution is to place a garden hose at several locations under the tree and run at 20 percent volume for 10 to 15 minutes on each spot.
There are other management strategies to help reduce drought stress to lawns. Reduce mowing frequency. The process of mowing creates openings in the ends of each grass blade, allowing them to lose water. This is important only at the beginning of a drought, because as time wears on, the reduced water rate encourages less growth, and thus less need for mowing. Sharpen the mower blade. Keeping the blade sharp will decrease the size of the openings made in each turf blade during mowing. Dull blades tend to rip and tear the grass blades, which create larger openings, and allow more moisture loss. Raise the mowing height. A higher mowing height encourages root growth and reduces heat stress.
For landscape plants, mulch is your friend. If you haven’t done so already this season, apply mulch to your landscape. Mulch provides your landscape plants with many benefits and gives your landscape a finished look. Its most important benefits occur below ground as mulch retains moisture and releases it over time. It also moderates soil temperatures, which is very important in a hot, dry summer.
The prolonged periods of hot and dry weather can severely stress our trees, shrubs and lawns, but homeowners can easily protect their landscapes. For more information, contact the Madison County Extension Office at 706-795-2281 or email@example.com.