Prepare Drought-plagued Lawns and Gardens for Winter

John Jett
Horticulture Specialist
WVU Extension Service
12/2002

This article was published in the November 2002 issue of West Virginia Farm Bureau News.


Plants suffering from drought stress exhibit a variety of symptoms. They may display decreased growth, wilting, and discoloration. Typically, the pattern of damage occurs from the top of the plant downward and from the outside of the plant inward. Leaves may be misshapen or drop prematurely. Evergreen needles will brown from the tip downward, or may turn yellow or reddish. Lawns may be thinner and, as a result, contain more weeds. Finally, drought-stressed plants are more susceptible to pests and disease due to their decreased resistance.

The dry, hot conditions experienced in late summer and early fall will have both short- and long-term effects on lawns, trees, and shrubs and will influence typical fall and spring lawn and garden tasks.

• Minimize fall fertilization and postpone fall aeration to reduce further stress to your lawn.
• Raise the mower deck to the highest setting for the last few mowings before winter.
• To improve lawn density, overseed in spring.
• Consider modifying your existing landscaping in spring to enlarge beds and reduce grass.
• Water lawns, trees, and shrubs until the ground begins to freeze to prevent winter desiccation.
• Mulch existing beds heavily (3 to 4 inches) and expand mulched areas under trees. Mulch helps reduce evaporation and retain much-needed moisture for your plants.
• Identify any shrubs and trees that are extremely drought-stressed so you can give them each a deep, once-a-month winter watering on one of those warm, sunny winter days.
• In spring, consider replacing dead plants with drought-tolerant plants.
• Apply water slowly to ornamental plants to achieve deep penetration that encourages deep rooting and drought tolerance.