With July almost here and the dog days just ahead, there's a
temptation to stay inside with the air-conditioning rather than go
outside and sizzle in the sunshine.
But your plants are like needy kids, wanting you to provide them with
food and water while protecting them from those weed bullies. Let's
find a no-sweat, or at least a low-sweat, way to give your lawn and
landscape the TLC they crave without incurring a case of heatstroke.
Here's rule number one, and like most good ideas, it is as simple as
it is obvious: Stay inside when it's hot outside. Duh, right? Sure it
might be obvious, but I still see a lot of people, red-faced and
sweating, kneeling in their yard under a broiling midday sun as if it
was somehow a character-building exercise. Believe me, toiling in the
heat won't earn you any brownie points in heaven. But you might get
there a little sooner than you expected.
The early bird catches the worm, but she doesn't catch sunstroke.
And it's not just you. Your lawn and shrubs will derive far greater
benefit when they receive your attention in the cool of the early
morning rather than the heat of the day.
Watering lawns and shrubs is a prime concern at this time of year, so
let's have a quick review of some basic low-sweat watering
If you're experiencing hot, dry weather, or perhaps even a drought,
these guidelines should be helpful in maintaining the health of your
shrubs or at least helping them survive.
Rather than using a sprinkler system, apply the water directly to the
root system of each plant. Slow, patient application allows the water
to be absorbed by the soil and is more efficient than a sprinkler
When watering directly to a plant's roots with a hose, use a wand or
an attachment that sprays the water out like rain. A hard gush of
water direct from a plain hose will wash away soil from around the
roots and is more likely to run off over the compacted dry soil.
If you are watering a small shrub (under, say, four feet tall), water
for about one minute which will deliver approximately five gallons of
water. For shrubs over four feet, a good rule of thumb is to add an
extra 15 seconds of watering time for each additional foot of height.
Weeding is another chore that's best done before the sun is up too
high in the sky. You'll be cooler and the weeds are more likely to
pull away from dew-moistened soil.
As I have pretty much hammered home, water your lawn in the early
morning. At that time, the dew is still on the grass and the water is
more likely to soak into the soil and not run off.
Water the lawn thoroughly but not too frequently. Allowing grass to
become slightly drought-stressed encourages stronger rooting.
A good sign that a lawn is ready to be watered is when you see
footprints in the grass after you've walked across it, instead of the
blades springing back up.
Frequent, shallow watering can result in shallower root systems and
more weeds, including crabgrass.
However, a lawn that is newly seeded or sodded does need to be watered
frequently enough to keep the surface fairly moist while it becomes
When it comes to mowing, remember that "taller" is an attribute that
makes Hollywood stars and grass look more attractive. Don't mow your
lawn to anything less than a height of three inches during the summer.
Why? Fewer weed problems, stronger roots and more of a lush look.
If the lawn does turn brown because of a really dry summer, it's not
the end of the world. In all likelihood, it will survive through its
dormant period and come back, strong and green, next spring.
Make your garden part of your early morning regimen and save the sweat
for a gym workout!
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed
newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org