Dealing with the drought
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[August 15, 2012]
A half-inch of rain certainly isn't
going to end the drought, and that's if you were lucky enough to
catch that much. This summer, the name of the tune is "What part of
the cloud were you under?" The lack of rainfall, combined with the
excessive heat, has been devastating. The drought has raised many
questions about care and maintenance of plants. Some of those
questions are ones that can be dealt with, but many are
Let's start with lawns. "Will my grass come back?" is by far the
top question. The answer is, "It depends." I will guarantee you
some areas are completely dead where water hasn't been applied.
I can also guarantee you some areas are still alive. With cooler
temperatures, and hopefully some rainfall, one can begin to tell
where you may have something green and growing. It will take a
while in many places to determine the survival rate. Dormancy
begins in the leaf blades, then goes to the crowns and finally
the roots. If the roots go, the grass is gone. Grass will
probably be coming back from the roots -- if it is still alive.
One way to tell is to dig a plant and see if roots are still
plump and white. Brown and dried up is not a good thing when it
comes to grass roots.
"Should I reseed or overseed my lawn?"
That all depends on how much has survived and how much rain you
figure we will get by the end of September. Several "rules of
thumb" enter into the equation. One is if dead areas are no
larger than a dinner plate, the grass can fill in itself.
Another is if it doesn't rain, then it doesn't matter -- unless
you are willing to water. The last one to throw out for now is
the germination period for grass seed. It can take up to a month
for Kentucky bluegrass, three weeks for red or chewings fescue,
and 10-14 days for .perennial ryegrass. You need to have grass
established before freezing temperatures arrive. This means
seeding dates by Sept. 10-15.
"What about weeds?" It's really easy to control weeds right
now. If it is green, you can spray it. That doesn't mean that
many weeds haven't also had the tops die off. In that case,
control is not practical.
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In the grand scheme of things, I would concentrate on getting
grass growing if you can. You can always stop the weed cycle. I
would also avoid fertilizer at this time. Grass will grow under
poor fertility conditions, and adding fertilizer (and large
amounts of salt are in the fertilizer) may make things much
Many perennial plants such as trees, shrubs and others are also
suffering. In many cases, the heat has been as detrimental as the
dry weather. You can add water, but you can't take away heat in most
cases. The weather we have had has caused many plants to try to
protect themselves. This could be in the form of losing leaves,
shedding fruit or even dying back. Leaves aren't as important as
buds. Check for plump, green buds to get an idea of the long-term
survival of these plants. An inch of water a week will keep things
green and growing, while a fourth of that amount will keep them
alive. Browning of leaves, especially on the tips, simply means the
plants can't keep up with the amount of water they are losing.
Hopefully these tips will help you manage things as we head into
the fall months. And, hopefully the fall months will be much kinder
to us and our plants.
University of Illinois Extension]