It looks as though the Kansas summer is finally upon us. Hot days, warm nights and little rain mean we need to better manage our yards and gardens to survive the summer. There are some methods to make this happen without wasting money or water.
Tall fescue or bluegrass lawns, the common turf grasses in our area, do not need to be watered to stay alive. Both will go dormant - that is part of their natural cycle - and both will recover nicely when the weather cools. If we have a long dry spell, one deep soaking per month will keep the crowns from drying out. There will, however, remain those who strive to keep the spring color with frequent watering, overfertilization and manicured mowing.
To keep some semblance of green, a rule of thumb is 1 inch of water per week. Make every effort to water the grass and not the street, sidewalk, driveway or side of the house. This really wastes water, and none of the latter will grow anyway. Water with a sprinkler that distributes drops of water. A fine mist or spray will mostly evaporate before it hits the ground. Watering in the early morning, when the air is still cool, lessens the waste through evaporation and allows the moisture to dry off the leaves as quickly as possible, avoiding disease.
The 1 inch per week should be applied all at once. This soaks the ground 4-6 inches deep well into the root zone. More frequent, shallow watering promotes short roots close to the surface, weakening the turf. Be observant as you water. Look for run-off, especially on clay soils. If run-off is an issue, possibly noted by a stream running across your driveway or sidewalk, you may need to split up your watering into two or three back-to-back sessions, allowing the water to soak in between sessions. Monitor the condition of your sprinklers. Leaky hoses, plugged nozzles, broken lines and improperly adjusted sprinkler heads waste water and cannot provide the required moisture.
Do a simple test of your application rate. Set out some coffee cans just before you start and measure the amount of water in each after a period of time. You will probably find the coverage is not as uniform as you believed and the volume not what you expected. Proper watering will promote deep roots, helping the turf survive the summer.
Proper mowing is especially critical this time of year. Root length in your turf grass is directly related to leaf blade length. The longer the leaf blades, the deeper the roots, up to a point. For fescue lawns, even the new varieties, 3 1/2 and one inches of mowing height is preferred. For bluegrass, 3 inches is a minimum. Shorter mowing exposes the crowns to sun and wind. Never mow off more than one-third the height. Even if you have to mow twice in a two-day span, don't try and catch up with one severe mowing. Keep your mower blades sharp. Mulching remains the best option.
Garden beds also need to be tended. Perennials beds also need the 1-inch minimum. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation are absolutely preferred. Annuals need more, but they will show the signs of stress quickly and we can respond accordingly. Water deeply. A light shower from a hose end sprayer, just wetting the surface, can be detrimental. I do not have the patience to stand and place 1 inch of water on each plant. Set up a sprinkler or set your irrigation system to adequately water to the correct depth.
Potted plants require constant attention. Depending on the size and construction of the pot, these can dry out easily in a day. They will show signs of stress, and our response must be immediate.
Be thorough and diligent. Pay attention first to the potted plants, then annuals, then perennials. Relatively small amounts of water here will yield strong results. Turf grass is a water guzzler. Stop and consider its worth. Mother Nature will provide rain, so water and mow on an "as needed" schedule, not on a "set program." Many in-ground sprinkler systems can sense rainfall and even soil moisture. Use these features, as they will more than pay for themselves. I really get a laugh as I drive through a 2-inch Kansas downpour and see sprinklers watering the streets, sidewalks and grass that's already underwater.