Despite recent rainstorms, summer is when we can have extended dry spells and water conservation becomes important. Many cities and towns may impose restrictions on outdoor water usage, but gardeners can still have a good-looking landscape despite their desire to conserve.
When it comes to lawns, even if it goes brown, it is only in dormancy due to the heat and should eventually rejuvenate. To avoid this, however, it's best to water in the early morning so that the noon sun will not cause most of the water to simply evaporate. You should soak the lawn so that the water reaches the roots a few inches down into the ground, but don't let water puddle. Using an aerator can prevent that, and make it easier for water to reach thirsty roots.
Once there has been a soaking rain that lets water seep 3 or 4 inches down into the soil, or you are able to water the lawn to that extent, it can go for a couple of weeks without being watered if necessary.
When you mow your lawn in hot weather, set the mower blade high so that the grass itself lends shade to the tender roots. This will have an added benefit of discouraging weed growth, too. To save your own strength when mowing, you can choose a model that has an electric start and is self-propelled. Be sure that you drink plenty of water when working outside — humans aren't as easily revived as grass is when they get dehydrated!
Wind can dry plants, too, so using windbreaks that let some of the air through, but also add shade, can be useful.
For ornamental plants, bushes and trees, mulching can help retain moisture as well. If you have grandchildren or pets, be sure to use something non-toxic and that isn't easily swallowed or mistaken for food. Most recommendations say mulch should be approximately 4 inches deep to be really effective at water retention.
Composting is a wonderful way to enrich soil and enhance its water retention capability. When you do have to water, soaker hoses use much less water than a hand held hose or sprinkler unit.
A rain barrel can collect runoff from gutters or downspouts, or a trough in the roof where water simply runs off. That can be used for watering your garden and a few drops of baby oil on the surface water will prevent any still water in the barrel from becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Think about the location of your ornamental plants.
For example, if you have a hot, sunny location, the best plants for that section of the garden might be succulents or other plants that are heat- and drought-resistant, such as yarrow, purple coneflower, day lilies or sedum.
Shrubs such as Rose of Sharon and Mugo pine are low water use plants, as are trees such as white oak and Austrian pine. Cosmos and marigolds make great choices for annual flowers.
Enjoy the warmth of the coming summer months and still have a beautiful garden!
Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann's local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.