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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

Water Landscape Plants

Where is the rain! If your yard is like mine, your landscape plants are suffering from the dry conditions. The rapid onset of poor looking landscape plants is cause for concern.

As a rule of thumb, landscape plants need about an inch of water a week. The easiest way to attain this is with a sprinkler or soaker hose. Set out a can or cup and quit watering when you've collected an inch of water.

Here are some tips that might help with your watering. Clay soils tend to stay wet longer, but are harder to rewet once they turn to glazed pottery. Anything planted this year and any trees or shrubs planted over the last two years need extra water. New plantings and containers may need to be watered daily. Vegetables and fruit plantings need water especially when they are forming fruit. Even plants listed as drought tolerant will need extra water if just planted.

Please don't ignore your old trees and shrubs because mature woody landscape plants often do not exhibit symptoms from underwatering for several months. Younger plants show symptoms much sooner. When symptoms are evident they could include severe leaf wilt, yellow leaves, early fall coloring, and leaf scorch (browning along the margins).

Symptoms are a result of the roots failing to supply enough water to the leaves. This inability is influenced by the moisture content of the soil and by the location and condition of the root system. The drought conditions have significantly reduced some plant root systems, making them unable to supply enough water to compensate for the tremendous amounts lost through the leaves.

As would be expected, some plants are affected more by drought conditions than others. Especially affected are potentilla, hydrangea, viburnum, euonymus, and holly shrubs; redbud and maple trees; spruce, pine, and hemlock conifers; and bog plants such as iris and astilbe. Fortunately, our native prairie species adapt well to these conditions and although the top growth may suffer, the dieback helps build reserves into the crown for growth next season.

Save your landscape plants! Water stressed plants to encourage recovery growth and root revival. Watch our weather patterns and water during this drought period. Water slowly and deeply. Watering thoroughly once a week is much better than watering a little every evening. Light, frequent watering can lead to shallow rooting and increased disease, weed development, and insect damage. Never overwater your plants.


Source: Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension educator, horticulture, (309)543-3308(309)543-3308,

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