Helping Your Customers Cope With Drought

Helping Your Customers Cope With Drought

“Why Does My Lawn Look Dead?”

Along with July’s intense summer heat comes the prospect of seasonal drought.

In Ohio, we get more than our fair share of 90-degree summer days. These extreme temperatures and dry periods can cause cool-season grasses, such as bluegrass and fescue, to become dormant. That’s when irrigation contractors can expect to receive calls from concerned homeowners.

Have an Education Plan

The prepared contractor has a plan in place to address these customer concerns. You can help alleviate homeowner concerns by educating them on the grass germination and growth process.

Ohio’s Hottest Summer

July 1934 was the hottest month ever recorded in Ohio, setting the following heat records:

  • Columbus – 106° F
  • Bowling Green – 107° F
  • Delaware – 108° F
  • Cincinnati – 109° F
  • Findlay – 109° F
  • Chillicothe – 109° F
  • Fremont -110° F
  • Wilmington – 111° F
  • Hamilton – 111° F
  • Defiance – 111° F
  • Gallipolis – 113° F

About 160 Ohioans died of heat-related causes during the week of July 20-26, 1934. More recently, during an extreme heat wave in July 2019, the mercury levels climbed to 112 degrees in northern Ohio.

Source: Ohio History Central

For instance, explain how different seeds germinate at different times, and the importance of watering longer but less often.

Your customers need to know that dormancy is nature’s defense mechanism to help plants survive tough, stressful conditions. Avoiding it completely during the dog days of summer can be difficult, but there are things they can do to help lessen its impact.

In general, lawns that have gone dormant should be left dormant until cooler weather sets in. Occasional watering will help prevent damage, but don’t overdo it. Overwatering a lawn in an effort to “wake it up,” can be very stressful to the turf.

Inform your customers that bluegrass can typically withstand about six weeks of dormancy before it suffers drought damage. Factors that can accelerate dormancy include secondary heat from buildings or fences, or south-facing slopes.

Seasonal Drought Survival Tips

Provide your customers with these practical tips on how they can mitigate the effects of dormancy on their lawns:

  • Grow drought-tolerant grasses. Most grasses can withstand some dormancy very well, but some grasses cope better than others. For instance, buffalo grass, fine-leaf or tall fescues, and older varieties of Kentucky bluegrass are the most drought-tolerant species found in Ohio.

Watering Restrictions

Several municipalities within the Columbus metro area maintain watering schedules year-round, but particularly during the hottest months. For example:

Westerville – Addresses that end in even numbers can water grass on even-numbered days, and those that end in odd numbers on odd-numbered days. (This restriction does not apply to flowerbeds, trees, shrubs and gardens.

Delaware – During periods of limited rainfall, addresses that end in odd numbers can water on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; even-numbered addresses may water on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. All watering is prohibited on Mondays.

The communities of Gahanna, Dublin, Hilliard, Upper Arlington, Powell, Bexley, Grandview, and Granville impose similar restrictions during the driest months.

Source:  Wikilawn

  • Newly sodded or seeded lawns should not go dormant. Grass must be well established in order to survive a period of drought. Likewise, lawn that has been damaged by disease or insects does not tolerate dormancy well. It is advised that you water the lawn regularly to keep it green.
  • Keep turf as high as possible by raising the mowing height to 3-4 inches during the hottest time of the year. This allows for deeper root development, and tall grass dries out more slowly than shorter grass.
  • Understand a dormant lawn’s water needs. A sleeping lawn needs at least half an inch of water every two to three weeks in order to stay alive. If the lawn is receiving that much rainfall, then there is no need to water at all.
  • Minimize traffic on the lawn. Foot or vehicle traffic can kill the grass and cause bare spots in the lawn.
  • Once summer passes, thoroughly water the lawn to wake it up. Apply enough water to penetrate the soil down to the root — about six to 12-inches below the ground. After about several weeks of cooler temperatures and adequate precipitation, the lawn will be green once again.

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Green Industry Pros

Coping with Seasonal Drought

Coping with Seasonal Drought

How to Keep Landscapes Healthy
in Midsummer

July in Ohio is hot.

Along with that intense summer heat comes the prospect of drought. Which means we may have to make some agonizing decisions regarding which plants in our yards and gardens to save and which plants to let go. For some of us, that can be like having to make a “Sophie’s Choice.”

So before the need for these difficult decisions becomes a reality, there are some things we can do to make the most of the water that will be available.

The Importance of Mulch

Did you know that more than 50 percent of the water applied to bare soil is lost through evaporation? Of course, the rate of that evaporation increases with higher air temperatures, solar radiation and wind. But applying mulch in landscape and garden beds can help to recoup almost all of that moisture loss, depending on the type of mulch used. (Added bonus:  Mulch helps keep the plant roots cool.)

For landscape plants and perennial flower beds, for instance, gardening experts recommend applying shredded bark or wood-chip mulches on top of bare soil at a depth of 3-4 inches. Surprisingly, however, these same wood-chip mulches should not be used in vegetable gardens and annual flower beds.  Why? Because when decomposing, they cause soil microbes to deplete the soil’s nitrogen reserves. This makes the much-needed nitrogen unavailable for use by the garden plants.

Organic Composts

With vegetable gardens and annual beds (or wherever the soil is regularly tilled or disturbed), organic mulches that break down more quickly are advisable. These would include well-rotted compost, animal manure, lawn/yard clippings and any combination of these.

To increase the effectiveness of grass or compost mulches, try this:

  • Place one to two moistened sheets of newspaper on top of the soil, slightly overlapping the sheets
  • Cover the newspaper with a layer of compost mulch.
  • Allow the newspaper to decay over the growing season.
  • Till the decayed paper into the soil, along with the top layer of mulch.

What About Rocks?

Rock mulches should generally be avoided around landscape plants. During the day, the rocks will absorb heat and then radiate that heat back at nighttime. This increases both the heat stress and water needs of plants. In particular, white and other light-colored rock reflects light back onto plants, compounding the heat stress felt by plants during times of drought.

More Drought-Related Tips

Here are a few more guidelines to keep in mind when navigating through a seasonal drought:

  • Do not fertilize. All fertilizers contain salts that will rob the plants of much-need moisture in the soil. Wait until your plants have fully recovered from the effects of drought before fertilizing.  (Plants experiencing drought conditions often appear wilted and droopy because they’re saving their energy.)
  • Do not prune during or immediately following a drought. To do so would place too much stress on the plants. and send them into shock.
  • Apply water slowly and deeply to the soil. The best way to maintain your garden is through drip irrigation or soaker hoses that apply water directly to the soil above the root zone. Placing these hoses under two to three inches of mulch helps retain soil moisture.
  • Hold off on watering until after sundown to reduce evaporative water losses.

Washington State Univ. Extension
Today’s Homeowner
Avon Lake Regional Water