Here on the first day of summer, the crisis spawned by the record spring drought continues into the fourth month. The challenge confronting every homeowner is not uncommon: to manage the landscape for the next l2-plus weeks so the lawn, plants, shrubs and trees survive the torrid summer without any casualties.
Here are some points to incorporate into your landscape program: Keep the grass as tall as possible, whether the lawn is in the sun or shade. Grass has gone dormant, so you may not be cutting the lawn for almost three weeks, but cut high when you do. If you have weeds, bag the clippings as you mow, otherwise let them be; some new mowers only function with the bag in place, so you may not have a choice. Also, mow discolored areas of the lawn last so a local disease problem isn't spread to the entire lawn. Water lawns before 11 a.m. or not at all; do not water in the afternoon or evening. County restrictions prohibiting evening lawn watering are a godsend. Set the lawn sprinkler in place at night, then turn on the faucet first thing on rising the next morning. Move the sprinkler every night so you cover the landscape over the week. If anything will save your lawn, morning watering will.
If the lawn has browned out for want of water, don't give up. Leave the lawn alone, don't fertilize or apply chemicals, and await the return of the rains, after which the lawn will come back. Inexpensive soaking hose is best for flower beds, roses, shrubs and trees. The hose should be placed in a circle three or four inches beyond the dripline of the tree, assuming the soil is level; if the ground slopes, place the soaker hose so water flows to the soil by the dripline. Trees need a two-hour soaking once or twice a week, shrubs only a one-hour soaking. In flower beds and rose gardens, use a half-open faucet for soaking. Where substitutes are available, use them in place of chemicals for insect control. If there is no option, use chemicals only in the early morning hours, and keep spray records so you spray as needed; unnecessary sprays should be curbed for the summer. Upgrade your sanitation practices. Simply removing diseased leaves (such as black spot on roses, powdery mildew foliage on bedding plants) will curb the spread of fungi; by soaking plants in the morning, foliage will be dry before nightfall, thereby reducing likelihood of disease. In the absence of sprays, all spotted, discolored leaves should be removed from plants and added to the trash can. Mulch where possible to choke weeds, conserve soil moisture, and ensure cooler soil temperatures so shrub and tree roots grow all summer. Chunky mulch lasts longer than fibrous mulch. Don't attack weeds with chemicals while the drought persists; the safest way is to hand-dig with a weeding tool.
School is out, so thousands of Washington-area families are about to move once more; for some, early summer moving has become a way of life every few years. While professional movers guarantee just about everything they touch, plants are not covered. If a move is pending, this scenario will insure the survival of indoor plants whether you're moving across town or cross-country: Move the plants yourself. The day before leaving, water all plants thoroughly, whether they need it or not. Draw a clear plastic bag over each plant, but wait until departure day to move plants to the car or trailer. If using the car, plants go inside the car, not the trunk. Place plants so they won't topple, pulling the plastic bags down to the base of the pot. When all plants are tucked away, draw a white sheet over the tops of the plants to shade them from the direct rays of the sun. Air conditioning is fine, but open all windows and park the car in full shade when you stop; if lodging overnight, the car must be parked to shade it from the morning sun, and windows cracked a bit to allow for exchange of air. At the end of the trip, plants should be the first objects moved inside. You probably know the scenario by heart, but a capsule review may refresh the routine: A dark house invites trouble, so put lights, radio or TV on electric timers to simulate a lived-in house. Tell neighbors of this so they know what's what; a key to a trusted neighbor is a must in an emergency. Two weeks' vacation won't create a crisis on the lawn, but you may want to hire the teenager down the street to cut the grass just in case. To avoid losing the lawn, instruct them to use your mower and not to make any adjustments; this way, the high cut will keep your lawn intact. Ask neighbors to help themselves to flowers and such, and if you have a vegetable garden, encourage them to pick your plants clean every day. Indoor plants will survive for two weeks if you water them the day before you leave. Group all plants on the floor in a north-facing room, having pulled down the shades or blinds to all windows except for a north window with the shade left one-third open. Draw a large, clear plastic sheet over all the plants and down the perimeter, or enclose each plant in its own clear plastic bag that hangs loosely below the rim of the pot. If you will be gone for three weeks, ask a neighbor to water your plants in the sink at the end of the second week and then return them to the floor. Fill a bucket with charcoal briquettes, then place it in the room to absorb humidity.
Here are a few other tasks for the moment: Leave hydrangea blooms intact; they will stay on the plant through the rest of the year and over the winter. Mulch the soil to stop weeds and conserve moisture. Gypsy moths are resting in cocoons on trunks and limbs of trees and will emerge in mid-July to mate and lay eggs. If you find cocoons, use a paintbrush to brush them into a bucket with a few ounces of kerosene. Burlap around tree trunks also should be checked. If other moths fly over the lawn in the evening hours, watch until their populations decline, wait for two weeks and then spray for sod webworm control.
NEXT WEEK: survival hints to get you safely through the summer.
Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500AM).