Poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer said, “I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.”
So true, but with this summer’s drought and heat, we need to make sure our lovely trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns (or alternative ground covers) survive for admiration next season.
The most important duty of a gardener is to water.
Watering is a critical factor in survival, yet many of us do not recognize our plants’ needs for water, especially in the fall months when temperatures cool.
Take a walk through Como Regional Park or College Park in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood and you will see that plants have drooping, folded leaves. This is how the plants are trying to survive, by limiting the amount of water loss from their leaves.
Look at the soil. At the time of this writing, we had had no significant rains for our plants in the last two months. If you try digging into the soil in your yard where you have not watered, you will find it is hard to dig as the soil is deeply dry.
So what should you do? Start increasing your water bill significantly.
Water is cheap compared to the cost of establishing new trees, shrubs and perennials. Get out there now and water everything in your landscape.
Many of us have noticed that when we turn on a sprinkler in a part of our yard for four or five hours, we find that the water has only penetrated 2 to 3 inches. Woody plant roots that are critical for absorbing nutrients and water are located in the top 6 to 10 inches of soil. Most perennials and lawn grasses have their roots in the top 6 inches of the soil. Bulbs, however, can be planted much deeper.
How to water? Standing with a watering wand and holding it for a few minutes on a spot is useless. With this summer’s heat and drought, one has to soak for a significant amount of time to start the water moving down through the soil profile.
I recommend that before you go to work, set up your sprinkler on a specified area and let it run while you are gone. When you return home, turn off the sprinkler. Then take a shovel and see how deeply the water has penetrated into the soil. Water until you see moisture down into the top 6 inches of the soil. Continue with this watering technique throughout your landscape. This means moving the sprinkler when you return from work to another site and water until you retire for the evening.
I hope that by the time this Bugle arrives on your doorstep, we will have received some significant rain, but if not, here is another thought: When hard rains are forecast, get out and water again before the storms arrive. If soils and turf are dry when a heavy thunderstorm arrives, it takes a significant amount of time for the rain to penetrate the soil. Most of those rains will run off into your watershed, but if you have watered so that water is already in the upper soil profile, most of those heavy rains will be absorbed and not runoff.
How long should you water in the fall? Until the ground begins to freeze. That can mean mid-December if late-fall weather is mild. Just remember to drain your hoses and faucets before the continuous below-freezing weather sets in.
If you don’t water, expect significant losses next year. When soils are dry, the frost can move rapidly down and shoot out of the soil rapidly in late winter. Many perennials and bulbs will either be pushed out of the soil or simply not emerge.
In the spring of 1989, following the hot, droughty weather of 1988, few people had spring bulbs emerge. The frost action destroyed them.
Is your home ready for winter? Look at the soils adjoining your foundation. Are they dry and pulling away from the foundation? If so, and if you do nothing to change that, expect a plumber’s bill in January.
When the severe cold hits, it easily seeps down into your basement walls and can potentially freeze your cold-water pipes. So water the soil near your foundation to get moisture into the soil so it can expand and sit tight against your foundation.
Two more tips for the season:
If you spend time picnicking in a park and have a cooler of ice to dispose of, look for a nearby tree or shrub and deposit it above its roots.
Oak trees are easily invaded by chestnut borers when they are drought stressed. If you see branch dieback in your oaks, or have any dead branches, be sure to get them pruned this winter. Get bids from several reliable tree companies (make sure they are licensed, bonded and insured) before proceeding.
Mary Maguire Lerman is a consulting horticulturist and a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Horticultural Science. She is a member of the St. Anthony Park Garden Club, the current chair of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society and volunteers at the Como Park Conservatory helping maintain the tropical bromeliad collection.