The current dry spell might be taking a toll on your yard.
The National Weather Service says Akron got just 1.71 inches of rainfall in June, 2.12 inches below normal. Storms provided relief in some areas Tuesday and Wednesday, but many lawns and landscapes remain parched.
If you haven’t already been watering, it might be time to start, especially if you have younger trees or other plants that suffer from dry conditions.
Established lawns can survive fairly long periods of drought, particularly if they’re planted in decent soil, said Joe Rimelspach, a turf grass expert at Ohio State University. The grass will turn brown and go dormant without water, but the grass plants’ crowns and root systems will stay alive for weeks.
Rimelspach said the bluegrass and rye grass typically used in Ohio lawns should remain alive for about six weeks without water; tall fescue, even longer. However, he said the lifespan will be shorter if the lawn gets heavy traffic, if it’s planted on a south-facing slope and gets a lot of sun, if the soil contains a lot of buried gravel or other debris, or if the grass has a poor quality root system.
Providing about a half-inch of water once a week is enough to keep a dormant lawn alive, Rimelspach said. A good soaking once a week will reach deeper into the soil, so it’s better than smaller, more frequent waterings.
It’s hard to tell how much water a sprinkler emits, however. Rimelspach and Tim Malinich, an OSU Extension agent, said you can use a rain gauge or even a straight-sided, flat-bottom can to capture the water and measure the amount.
Better yet, Malinich suggested putting several cans around the area you’re irrigating, since sprinklers don’t always water evenly.
A more accurate method, however, is to dig down into the soil and feel it.
As long as the soil at the thatch level is moist, Rimelspach said, the crown of the grass plants should be getting enough water.
In the meantime, avoid hard wear on the lawn such as parking on it or inviting your friends for a volleyball game. Typical foot traffic from people walking on the grass or children playing on it shouldn’t be harmful, he said.
Rimelspach noted that as long as your grass is a tan or straw color, it’s probably just dormant.
As grass dies, it turns gray and the grass plants start collapsing and matting.
Like lawns, established trees can typically survive dry spells. But that’s not always true for younger trees that have been transplanted within the last five years, said R.J. Laverne, manager of education and training for the Davey Tree Expert Co.
When trees are dug at the nursery, they lose a large percentage of their root mass, especially their fine feeder roots, Laverne said. “That’s going to put the trees in trouble pretty quick,” he said.
How much water a tree needs differs by species and also depends on the size of the tree.
He suggested inspecting your trees for signs of wilting or for leaves that are already changing to their fall colors — an indication that the leaves aren’t getting the minerals that normally reach them through the water the tree takes up.
Leaves that are smaller than they should be are another trouble sign, Laverne said.
They indicate the tree didn’t have adequate energy reserves when the leaves were formed in spring and might not have the energy to survive a drought.
For trees that need watering, provide a long, slow soaking once a week, he said.
Do it in the evening so less water is lost to evaporation, he said.
That’s contrary to the advice that’s given for smaller ornamental plants. Trees are taller, so irrigating them doesn’t wet their leaves and put them at risk for fungal diseases.
Laverne recommended laying a soaker hose on one side of the tree near the drip line, turning on the spigot to a trickle, and leaving the hose in place for a couple of hours. Then move the hose to the other side of the tree and repeat.
Flowers and shrubs vary in their water needs, but most need about an inch of water a week to remain healthy, Malinich said.
Pay particular attention if plants wilt in the heat but don’t recover overnight, he said. That’s a sign of significant drought stress, and “you really don’t want to get to that point.”
But don’t make the mistake of thinking overwatering is a good thing. The roots of waterlogged plants can’t get the oxygen they need, Malinich noted. That can cause wilting, too, which often leads people to the mistaken idea that the plant needs even more water.
Determine your soil’s moisture content by pulling away the mulch and feeling the soil 1 to 2 inches down, he said. If it’s moist, your ornamental plants should be getting sufficient water.
Malinich likes the use of drip irrigation for flowers and shrubs, because it’s a much more efficient form of watering. You can also use a sprinkler, but measure as you would for a lawn so you don’t under- or overwater.
Watering with a hose is another option, but Malinich said people commonly underwater that way.
He recommended watering a section till you start to see puddling before you move on to the next section.
When you’ve watered everything, go back and repeat the whole process at least once and maybe twice.
Especially with plants that are prone to fungal diseases, water near the base and try to avoid wetting the leaves.
It’s best to water in the morning so any water that does get on the leaves will evaporate as the day heats up.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.