Dry summer plus record-breaking stretch of hot days plus warm fall with little precip equals thirsty and stressed plants.
It's a vicious cycle, and what most people don't know is that everything gets worse if you don't take the time to water your plants now.
Here's what happens. Giving the lawn the moisture it needs in the fall helps keep it healthy and pest-resistant. Because there are always pests such as turf mites in the environment that can threaten lawns, the simplest strategy is to keep lawns healthy so they are resilient. Healthy plants can actually tolerate higher populations of pests, and that is why we need to avoid drought-stressing them.
And there's more to the vicious cycle. Turf that declines 15 to 20 percent during the winter due to pests and drought will be over-watered in the spring to bring it back to lush. That watering will also happen at the worst time of year for the turf. It needs to be a little stressed in the springtime as that's what makes the roots grow deeper to make the lawn ultimately more drought tolerant.
If you don't water in the dormant season, you'll likely water six times more in the spring when the lawn needs it least! That bad management hurts the lawn, wastes water and costs you money.
So this weekend, when the temperatures hit the 60s, water the lawn. Here are some tips when you hook up the garden hose:
• Oscillating sprinklers such as the big arching rainbow or the smaller impact variety should probably run about 45 minutes to an hour depending on the exposure. South and west facing areas will need more water; north facing areas need less.
• Since you're out of the watering habit, set the timer in your kitchen or cell phone to avoid over-watering.
• If your sprinkler sprays water continuously over one area - like the "frog-eye" variety - check the lawn at about 30 minutes.
• If the warm weather continues as predicted, be ready to check the soil moisture again next weekend by doing the screwdriver test (push a screwdriver into the soil to see how dry and hard the soil is). You may need to consider watering again next weekend, too.
What about trees?
Because trees are the most expensive and long-term investment of all our plant material, they warrant consistent care. Some horticulturists attribute the two-week earlier than normal leaf drop this year in part to drought stress over the summer. That means trees have gone into the dormant season at a disadvantage and need to be watered, too. It's the same for shrubs and perennials.
Water trees at intervals around the circle of the drip line with a deep watering device or a soaker hose. Also, water the bases of shrubs and other plants.
Becky Garber is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.