These are hard days for gardeners. We have talked about the heat to everyone we meet and we are suffering through it as I write these words. I can’t remember days of continual 100 plus temperatures, This kind of heat probably has happened in other years, but, like many other bad memories, I have forgotten those times. I have not, however, forgotten the drought of a few years ago when my town of Jacksonville imposed watering restrictions. For a plant person this can spell disaster. We saved water from every possible indoor source and carried it outside in buckets. Hope we do not face that same situation this year.
By now, unless you have been watering your grass, it has turned an ugly shade of brown and is pretty crispy. It is not really dead, only dormant. As soon as it rains, it will green back up (unless it is a newly sodded lawn in which case the color may be a cry for help). Should you decide to water, please remember to water deeply and less often. Grass needs about an inch of moisture a week to look like a golf course. You can judge how much water your lawn is getting by setting empty tuna cans around to catch the water. The best time to water your lawn is between 4 and 9 am.
Although your lawn will bounce back from this drought and heat, these same conditions are much harder on many annuals and perennials, trees and shrubs, especially newly planted ones. Many or most annuals are water hogs. The sun coleus I planted are begging for a drink at least twice a day. The pentas are hanging their heads. If you put in new ornamental plants or trees last spring, they must have water to survive until they are settled in. Even those planted last winter need to be watered. Again water deeply and less often, early in the morning if possible. Watering at night may encourage the development of fungus and disease. By watering early you allow the foliage to dry. A good layer of mulch surely helps keep the soil from drying out as quickly (and keeps down the weeds). Overhead watering is never the best choice; drip irrigation wastes less water and gets the water where it is needed most – to the roots. Many of us, however, have the traditional over head irrigation systems in our yards – either through in ground sprinkler systems or rotating sprinklers. Some soaker hoses added to the mix will help.
Now is not the time to fertilize--struggling plants don't need encouragement to grow. They need to use their strength to survive. Good soil helps plants to be strong. Layers of compost mixed in the soil next winter will improve the structure of the soil and make it easier for water to reach the roots.
The use of drought tolerant plants in the landscape is certainly a solution to reducing our water usage. There are so many to choose from: sedums, agaves, yuccas, and even cactus. These laugh at the drought and the heat. These drought tolerant beauties also make wonderful container plantings. (Note to myself; do not plant three dozen sun coleus in pots and beds next year).
Be kind to yourself on these sweltering days. For us humans working in the garden in the early morning or early evening will be the healthiest for us. With a little patience we will survive another Alabama summer.