Drought and hot, dry weather can have an adverse effect on garden and ornamental plants. When you find yourself in the middle of a drought, there are strategies to save or salvage home gardens and landscapes.
Water is lost from plants and gardens in two ways. The first is by the evaporation of water from the soil surface. The evaporation rate increases under hot, dry and/or windy conditions. As the soil surface dries, more water from deep within the soil may be drawn to the soil surface, where it also evaporates. The second way water is removed from soil by plants in a process called transpiration.
Most West Virginia lawns consists of cold-season grass species, which usually go dormant during the hot, dry weeks of summer and return to active growth in the fall. These lawns can be kept green and growing with proper watering, but in times of prolonged drought and limited water supplies the best approach is to let them remain dormant. When conditions improve and growth resumes, there are several recommendations that should be followed.
The best way to protect ornamental plants during periods of drought is by applying mulch. Research has shown that unmulched soil may lose twice as much water to evaporation as mulched soil. Three to 4 inches of good organic mulch such as shredded bark, rotted sawdust or compost will preserve soil moisture, prevent soil compaction, reduce soil temperature, and reduce water-robbing weed populations. When possible, apply water slowly to ornamental plants to achieve deep penetration that encourages deep rooting and drought tolerance. Newly planted trees and shrubs are more sensitive to dry conditions and will need frequent watering from planting time until they are well-rooted.
Similar strategies can be used for vegetable and fruit crops. Most vegetables are shallow-rooted and will benefit from any practice that reduces water loss from either soil or plant.
Here are some water conservation recommendations
Most vegetable crops are sensitive to drought three to four weeks before and during harvest. Listed below are periods of plant growth when an adequate supply of water is critical for high-quality vegetable production. If possible, irrigate during these critical periods.
If growing conditions improve, there are several vegetables that can be grown as fall crops. Consult the West Virginia University Extension Service Garden Calendar for seeding and planting dates.
And remember! All plants are more susceptible to invasion by insects and diseases when under stress. Monitor plants closely for pests and take appropriate control measures.