Drought detrimental to yards

The severity of the drought has been detrimental to yards and gardens across the state.

The economic impact to crops and the response needed to protect livestock is justifiably getting most of the attention. But over the next few months to a year, many individuals will be trying to amend some of the damages to their landscaping.

Below are some tips that may be helpful in those efforts.

Lawns

Most people have given up on watering lawns due to the time required, water shortage or the cost. Initially when cool season grass goes dormant (turns brown), the crown is still a little green, which you can see if you dig into the thatch and look closely. However, if no moisture is received over an extended period of time (e.g. a month to six weeks) many crowns will die and ‘recovery’ following regular rainfall will be poor. These lawns will need to be renovated to look good, with September being the advised month for doing so.

But with soil conditions being so dry, most people will wait until late winter for frost seeding or early spring for renovation. Due to the extensiveness of the drought, shortage of grass seed is anticipated for 2013. Purchasing grass seed this fall might save money and insure seed for when it is needed. Selection of the different turfgrass varieties is likely to be less next year as well.

Trees and woody plants

By now, each of us have probably watched a favored tree or bush turn brown, drop leaves or something in between. Two frequent questions are, “Will it recover” and (assuming some parts are ok) “When can I prune it”?

If the tips of a woody plant are green, that is a good sign that it may come back next year, even if it has shed most of the leaves (dropping the leaves is a way for the tree to reduce its water needs). But the plant might not come back; you will only know next year for certain when it fails to leaf out. If it turned completely brown in June, July or August, it is likely dead, especially so if it did so suddenly.

If it did so gradually and made it into late August with some greenish/yellowish leaves, then it may have gone dormant.

For trees or bushes that have died, there is no reason to wait to remove them. With the numbers of dead trees this year, tree service companies will be busy for some time to come, as many trees will not be identified as clearly dead until the spring. It is generally easier to imagine how you’d like to replant a landscape without the distraction of dead tree or bush in view.

Don’t rush to prune. Waiting until next spring would be the preferred option. You can probably tell what is dead, but you might not know what might still die. A tree or bush might continue to show effects from the drought for some time.

In the drought of 1999, I had a 30-foot fir tree that looked fine until November when it suddenly started to turn yellowish. It was totally dead by March. If you feel you ‘have’ to prune something because of its prominence, wait until we’re into cooler weather and we’ve had some rains (or you’ve watered the area well).

Perennials, flowers and vegetables

Wildlife feeding on flowers and vegetables increases in dry weather, something most gardeners discovered last year. For annual flowers and most vegetables, one will just plant again next spring. For herbaceous perennials, most that cannot tolerate the heat and dryness die back above ground. But the crowns should be alright, as they are at or below ground (reasonably protected). The dead foliage that collapses down on a crown serves a purpose to protect it.

Severe cracking of the ground may result in damage to crowns through physical tearing or drying (the latter as air that can now easily enter the ground). Damage from cracking would be mitigated if the area was well mulched.

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