High (temps) and dry (plants)

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 10, 2012 - 2:08 PM

Current conditions prompt a clear course of action: Water, water everywhere --and maybe a bit of mulch.

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Morning is the best time to run a lawn sprinkler.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Our hydrangeas are drooping and our lawns are browning, and, in a perverse way, that makes perfect sense. After all, March was more like May this year, and the calendar has been out of synch ever since.

"In my mind this is more like August, when things might fade but people say 'The heck with it, it's been nice all summer' and just let things go,'" said horticulturist Deb Brown.

Except that we can't do that, at least if we want our plants to be around next spring. Whenever the heck that might come.

The Twin Cities area is not in a severe drought -- yet -- thanks largely to the second-wettest June on record. But after a couple of seriously hot weeks, and with no rain in the 10-day forecast, all but the most venerable plants need some attention.

"We have seen some lawns turn brown, but I'm not overly concerned right now," said Brian Horgan, a turfgrass specialist with the University of Minnesota. "You call me back at the end of July, and it might be a different story."

Lawns that were seeded or sodded this year are most vulnerable, Horgan said, and should be watered thoroughly once a week if there's no rain. The same goes for young trees, large-leafed shrubs and anything in containers.

"You have to meet the demands of the plants," said Brown, former extension horticulturist with the University of Minnesota. "We've had a fair amount of wind and a lot of heat, and the heat has been relentless. Truthfully, there's nothing we can do but water."

Container plants are especially problematic, Brown said, because extra watering can leech away nutrients, so fertilizer should be applied once a week.

Trees and shrubs should not be fertilized during these periods when they are stressed, said Gary Johnson, associate professor of forestry at the University of Minnesota.

He has been watering his own boulevard trees the past two weeks. Heavily. "The old adage of one inch a week, that's for growing corn and bluegrass," he said.

In an era of volatile weather, none of the experts cared to make long-range predictions.

"But if I had to guess," Brown said with a chuckle that sounded more like a sigh, "I'd say it's gonna' stay hot."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

  • BEAT THE HEAT

    Tips for tending your lawn and garden during this hot, dry spell:

    Lawn: Water, preferably in early morning, if your schedule permits. Definitely water if it was seeded or sodded this year. Don't mow in the middle of the day. When you do mow, set the blade higher. Don't apply herbicides or fertilizers.

    Trees: Very young trees need 20 to 25 gallons of water a week. Those that have been in the ground 5 years or less need a weekly soaking. Watering the lawn around trees helps keep their roots healthy. Putting a layer of mulch around them helps retain moisture.

    Gardens: If any plants are wilting, "water the heck out of them," Brown said. If some or all of a garden has not been mulched, put in a couple of inches.

    Containers: Fertilize about once a week. When the temperature spikes, move container plants to a less sunny spot.

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