Coping With Dry Autumn Conditions
Fall is normally a good time to work in the garden. The weather is cooler than normal which is easier to work in but forecasts call for warmer weather to return for awhile. We keep getting predictions for rain which so far has not come.
Warm water temperatures have made this year’s hurricane season especially bad in the South and some of those folks have suffered from too much water. Many plants in the St. Louis area are suffering from lack of moisture though some spots have been lucky with rain. The ground is generally very dry. There is more work that could be done right now if it was not so dry.
For example, lawn care. Normally this is the best time to seed a lawn. This year even irrigated lawns are struggling because the ground is so hard and compacted. The water cost of irrigating a lawn is a problem too.
If you decide to plant, thatch, aerate, feed and seed. Get the seed 1/4 inch 1/2 deep in the soil by raking. If you wait too late to seed the cold could slow down germination. The normal window is 45 days starting around September 1st but can be extended when the weather is warmer than normal.
A lot of zoysia lawns are suffering this year from excessive thatch. It’s important to to remove thatch periodically to avoid problems. Excessive thatch can kill your grass and necessitate starting over with a new planting.
Most ornamental plants in our lawns and gardens are shallow rooted. Check your irrigation system to see if it’s watering the right areas and make sure you are not wasting water with your system or hoses.
How can you tell if you are wasting water? Is anything broken or leaking? Are all your fittings tight? If you’re not sure if your irrigation system is set correctly, have a meeting with the company that installed it to check exactly what is being watered.
Make sure you are making the best of what water you do have. When is a good time to water? Morning is the best, but if you don’t have a choice try not to irrigate after 7 pm. If you have an automatic system or timers, try a 3:30 am – 5:30 am regimen – I have had success with that schedule. If you can’t water at the ideal time, don’t skip it because the plants need it. You may find that your lawn and plants need daily watering for 20 minutes per session. Depending on your conditions 40 minutes every other day works for some. Cool the water from your hose before putting on plants so you don’t scald them.
This is also a good time to prune and feed perennials. If your perennials don’t look good they will probably perk up when it gets more moist. Normally this a good time to divide perennials but this year I would hold off as long as it stays dry.
Trees and shrubs are not easy to keep alive in dry fall conditions. October is better for planting when September is very dry. Perennial flowers can be planted now. They will need daily watering for 10-14 days to get established. Container plantings are doing well now as long as they get watered.
We are probably going to lose a lot of mature trees to drought this year. A wet spring followed by drought is very hard on plants. The best preventative is selection so there may not be much you can do now. If you have a valuable tree that is important to you with unusual symptoms have an arborist take a look at it.