In the Garden: July

In the Garden: July

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Our landscape expert explains why an increase in the water bill this month will be much less than replacing your mature trees, shrubs, and lawn in the future.

The garden
Our gardening expert shares why sacrificing for an extra water bill this month will save your garden down the road.

After the prepping our gardens in March and April, planting annual color and possibly trees, shrubs and perennials in May and June, we may find that July is a nice month to just sit back and enjoy the hard work. There are still weeds to pull and lawns to keep mowed but for the most part the garden is on cruise control. Although, there are times that pulling out weeds can take much of the time. We may need a backpack sprayer and other essential lawn tools to keep us on our game.

That being said, we still have to be aware of what’s going on with the weather. We really need to be sure we’re providing enough water to our landscape and the heat of July can present some problems. We’ve had summers where we have some significant weekly rains and others where we wont see much rain for six to eight weeks. One of the most costly natural disasters we’ve ever had in the US was the drought of 1988. In today’s dollars, its cost would be over $120 billion, second only to hurricane Katrina. The drought affected 45% of the continental US. The wildfires in Yellowstone National Park occurred during this period. I recall that here in Cincinnati we didn’t have a significant rain from about mid-May until September.

While that extreme doesn’t happen often, we can see a lot of damage in our landscapes from even just a week or two of hot weather with no rain. While a lawn may go dormant and have resurgence later in the summer or early fall, the stress of a drought can cause all kinds of problems. Our lawns stay weed free with much less effort when they stay thick. Insects are also attracted to lawns under stress. What looks like a lawn that may come back can actually be a lawn in need of complete reseeding.

In the case of our trees, the damage from drought could take years to be recognized with slowly thinning crowns, a sign of declining roots. Trees under stress are also more likely to be attractive hosts to insects and diseases. Watering a lawn is a great way to also take care of our mature trees.

Our shrubs will also let us know when they need a drink. While wilting leaves late in the day aren’t uncommon on a hot day, we want to watch out for leaves that are not perking up over night. Hydrangeas, viburnums, barberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons are all going to tell us when they need help.

My first preference for a well-watered landscape would be an in ground irrigation system. The ability to assign watering frequency by various zones around a property is really a wonderful feature. The fact that they keep on working while you’re out of town is another. If the in-ground system isn’t an option, then the good old oscillator is the next choice. If you add a timer at the faucet your can “set it and forget it,” at least in that one part of the property. You still have to move the sprinkler around to ensure complete coverage.

Impact sprinklers also work well but I find that if you need some height in applying the water they are somewhat limited. My least favorite is the soaker hose. They’ve been shown to only apply water right under the hose with very little very actual coverage.

Whether from the clouds or the spigot, our landscapes need about an inch of water per week, sometimes more when the temperatures climb into the mid to upper 80s and beyond. An inexpensive rain gauge is a great investment. The next investment would be some time on your part to look at your plants and landscape for signs of drought stress like wilted leaves, faded color, dropped leaves, cracked soil, etc. The increase in the water bill will be much less than replacing mature trees, shrubs, and lawns.