When water is scarce and temperatures approach triple digits, it can spell trouble for lawn and garden plants. There are a few steps you can take to help your landscape beat the heat, and part of rescuing your greenery from drought is knowing when to pick your battles.
1. Spot the Signs
When plants are stressed, they let you know. Drought causes foliage to droop and turn grey, and many plants will shed leaves and blossoms in an effort to conserve precious resources. Of course, various pests and diseases can cause these symptoms, but if a drought is occurring, it’s a pretty safe bet that drought is the cause.
2. Save What You Can
If leaves go from grey and limp to brown and crispy, it’s probably too late, and it’s best to focus your efforts on plants that can still be saved. Also keep in mind that some plants fare better in drought than others. Many garden vegetables – particularly tomatoes and peppers – will not produce new fruit in heat above 95 degrees, so watering may save the plants themselves, but it probably won’t bring back your crop.
In contrast, most turf grasses automatically go dormant from high heat and can bounce back on their own as soon as the rains return and the weather cools, so watering your lawn should be your last priority. So when drought strikes, these are the plants you should focus on, in descending order from most to least important:
• Newly-planted trees and shrubs
• Established trees and shrubs
• Container plants
• Vegetable gardens
• Lawn grass
3. Watering Essentials
When tending to drought-stricken plants, it’s better to water deep rather than often. Provide enough water to soak the soil 8 to 12 inches deep. The best way to water is with a hose and aerator, counting to 10 as you apply water to the base of each plant; and the best time to water is early in the morning, just as the sun is coming up.
Mulch doesn’t just add nutrients to the soil; it provides an insulating layer that shields a plant’s roots from heat and helps the ground retain moisture. Mulch should be incorporated into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil around plants in springtime, long before drought becomes an issue, but better late than never. Adding mulch in summer can still help your plants ward off dehydration.