Record temperatures have kept homeowners indoors this summer sweating out the sweltering heat. From the usual hotspots of Arizona all the way up to Minnesota and on toward the Great Lakes, “Heat” has been a four-letter word. And in most of the country, that heat has also been accompanied by a startling lack of moisture. In other words, in 2012 most of us are facing a drought.
So what can you do to fight back? You don’t have to take things lying down (indoors in the air conditioning, of course). If you have healthy trees, you know how important they are. Trees offer shade as well as “evaporative” cooling (moisture release that absorbs heat as it evaporates). During the dog days, you’ll find it’s usually about 10 degrees cooler under a tree. And here’s a mind-blower – one large, fully grown tree near the house can slash energy bills by up to $200 a year!
This is all fine and dandy if you have trees, but what if you don’t? The first thing we’d recommend is: Plant some! Talk to your local arbor care specialist to decide which varieties will thrive in your yard, when to plant them and where to get them. They can test your soil and give you the answers you need, so it’s worth scheduling a time to talk with them.
Once you have that knowledge, and get those trees planted, it won’t be long before you gain all the benefits and beauty of trees. But here are some drought-fighting tips that can help you whether you have trees or not.
- Mulch and mulch again. Simple garden mulch can be a miracle worker in the hottest climates. It contains nutrients that your plants can use, and it retains water like a champion. Mulch is a low-tech, natural resource that blows away all the timers, sprinklers and irrigation systems you’ll find on the market. It is nature’s drip feeder of moisture to right where your plants need it. Mulch also helps you maximize the water-absorbing potential of your yard. In addition, certain mulch can also repel bugs and have a positive impact on your soil’s pH balance. But don’t overdo it! The dreaded “mulch volcano” around plants can actually suffocate roots. Just spread a light amount of mulch near the plant and extend the pile out several feet to either side. This will position the mulch over the roots without harming the plant – and it will block the sun, to reduce weeds and lower ground temperatures to lock in moisture.
- More water, less often. Overwatering is a common error when droughts take hold. A general rule of thumb is give the entire yard an intense watering once a week, preferably as early in the morning as possible. Night watering can lead to fungus growth. Flooded soil kills the fine hairs of the root system and can compact the soil making it hard for the roots to absorb future waterings. What makes this even more difficult is that it’s easy to interpret the signs of overwatering as plant dehydration. Brown spots on leaves and wilting plants don’t always mean it’s time for more water. Less frequent, intense soakings reach deep into the soil, beyond the reach of evaporation but not beyond the reach of your plant’s roots. After the drought passes – and it will! – treat your lawn to an overwatering. Once or twice a year, water twice as long as normal to help leach the salts out of your plants’ roots.
- Don’t prune or mow as often. During a drought, it doesn’t really make any sense to cut your grass or prune shrubs, bushes and trees. The extra foliage helps hold in moisture and keep the soil protected from the sun’s oppressive rays. Applying trimming shears to branches creates open wounds on your plants, and the cuts can give parasitic bacteria and bugs a chance to rob your greenery of nutrients. Also, fresh cuts become areas where moisture and sap can leak out from plant, which is especially troublesome when water is in short supply.
Instead, put away the mower and hedge trimmers, pour yourself a nice glass of lemonade and take a load off until the temperatures cool and the rains fall once again!