Gardening: Dealing with the July drought

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

If you don’t have the time or can’t afford to water your lawn every day and it’s turning to gold, not to worry – it’s not dying.

Cool weather grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass and fescues, go dormant in hot dry weather unless they’re watered frequently and that may mean once or even twice a day. The good news is as the weather cools and rains increase that golden lawn will begin to green up again.

Fertilizing now won’t color up the grass and may do harm, so save your money and spend your time caring for your garden and landscape plants, and that includes the trees and shrubs.

Bert Cregg from Michigan State University Extension, Departments of Horticulture and Forestry says as a general rule trees and shrubs that have been in a landscape for three or more years are usually well established and can withstand typical a mid-summer dry spell without lasting injury.

But this year the weather is far from typical, so during the brutal heat and drought-like conditions we are experiencing this summer regular, irrigation is critical.  

Hydrangeas tend to do best out of the blaze of the full sun and not under trees, where they have to fight for water.

These are some of the drought stress symptoms Cregg says to look out for that are telling you the trees and shrubs in your landscape and garden are in dire need of a good soaking: wilting of leaves are obvious but other indicators to keep an eye out for are rolling or curling of leaves, scorching of leaves, browning of leaf tips, shedding of leaves, early onset of fall color and drooping shoots on conifers.  

It goes without saying that newly planted trees and shrubs are most susceptible to high heat and drought so regular watering is critical. When the surface of the soil ( an inch or so around the root ball, the plant should be watered.

Don’t overlook that giant tree in the front of your house. During a drought, established trees and shrubs should be watered every 10 days to two weeks with an inch or two of water.  A slow drip is best so this is no job for a watering wand.

The best time to water is in the morning when the plants are best able to take up the moisture.  

For an excellent easy-to- read tutorial on how to properly water and care of mature trees Google “FAQs for Helping Your Tree Survive during a Drought”. 

The Morton Arboretum, located in Lisle Illinois, also has good tips on proper watering and care of trees and shrubs on its website: 

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.