University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Dealing with Dry Landscapes

July 19, 2001

Despite all the rains back in June, landscape plantings are now facing very dry conditions. As lawns turn brown and plants wilt, watering becomes necessary. With watering restrictions in many areas and high watering costs, set priorities when deciding which plantings to water.

For example, vegetable crops may be in a critical stage for drought stress. Adequate water is needed to fill out the ear of sweet corn, pod of beans, and developing tomatoes and peppers. If plants are under drought stress, harvest yields and quality will suffer. Gardens that have been mulched will thrive longer without rainfall or irrigation. Try to water early in the day.

First priority for watering trees and shrubs should be newer plantings; especially those made this season. Established trees and shrubs also need water, especially if conditions remain dry. Water the entire rootzone area. Be careful, however, not to overwater, especially on clay soils, as roots sitting in excessively wet soil for prolonged periods can die even in dry weather.

Browning lawns may be a very visible signal of drought stress, yet actually tolerate drought very well. Cool-season grasses go dormant and resume active growth when conditions improve. Applying 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water every 2 to 4 weeks won't make lawns green again, but should be enough to maintain stems and roots so lawns survive and resume growing later.

Flower beds and groundcover plantings also need watering, but needs vary according to the species present and site conditions. For example, perennial beds with species more tolerant of dry soils, such as yarrow, purple coneflower, liatris, or sedum can usually get by with minimum need for watering. Other species may need frequent irrigation to remain healthy. Careful planning can make maintenance practices, such as watering, much easier.

Hopefully some timely rains will come soon to help relieve drought stress on plants. In the meantime, evaluate your landscape plantings and put together some watering plans to assure plants make it through the dry weather.


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