Drought defense: Grass can be let go, but give a drink to plants, experts say
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News July 8, 2012 8:52PM
Homes in Elgin and everywhere else in the area display dry lawns in need of rain. July 6, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 7, 2012 1:15AM
ELGIN — Tom Marthinsen knows a fool-proof way of ensuring your lawn stays green as northern Illinois — and much of the country — suffers through drought conditions.
That, said the Hoffman Estates-based contractor who operates as The Sprinkler Man Inc., is to install a sprinkler system.
He has North Shore clients whose lawns look as though we’ve had steady precipitation all year, he said.
For those who cannot afford that expense, his advice is to let lawns go dormant for the rest of the year and focus watering instead on landscape plantings, Marthinsen said.
He’s been installing sprinkler systems throughout northern Illinois for 20 years, Marthinsen said while sitting in the shade at the Northwest Fourth-Fest at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
Lawns at that venue — where Elgin joined three other communities to celebrate the Fourth of July — were watered down by firefighters prior to the evening fireworks, said Bill McLeod, the Hoffman Estates mayor. Not to water the grass, per se, but to prevent any embers from igniting the dry grasses.
It might be hard for residents proud of their green lawns to let their yards go brown, Marthinsen said, but added. “You don’t have to be worrying about your lawn. Grass has been around for millions of years,” and has survived droughts before.
But residents should continue to water their shrubs, flowers and other plantings as much as possible. Those plants — often more costly to replace — don’t necessarily come back from drought conditions, he said.
And, he said, the conventional wisdom of watering only after dark or in the very early morning still applies to landscape plants. Otherwise, evaporation can make the water that was just applied worthless.
Some area villages, including West Dundee, have enacted sprinkling bans recently which allow residents to water plantings on an even/odd schedule — watering on even days for houses on the even-numbered side of the street — and odd days on the odd-number side.
St. Charles recently asked its residents to help keep newly-planted trees on village streets healthy in the ongoing drought.
The city uses “gator bags” around newly-planted trees that slowly release water onto the tree’s roots.
“Crews usually refill the bags about once a month from June through September. However, we have accelerated the watering schedule due to the excessively dry conditions,” said Peter Suhr, Public Services Division manager. “If your parkway tree appears thirsty in between these waterings, we ask that you refill the bag. The life of the tree may depend on it.”
According to Suhr, residents should lift the white “Treegator” tag to expose the watering hole, insert a hose and fill the bag with water.
To water more established trees or trees without a gator bag, Suhr suggests using a drip or soaker hose and coil it under the tree’s drip line. “Turn the hose on and let it run at the base of the tree for 20 to 30 minutes,” he said.
Once rain returns, Marthinsen said, lawns will green right back up. This summer’s drought, however, will determine how landscape plantings produce next season.
Rosie Lerner, Purdue University Extension consumer horticulturist, writes the monthly “Purdue Yard & Garden News” and says some gardeners ultimately might have to decide which plants to try to save and which to let go.
That column offers advice to home gardeners trying to keep their flowers, shrubs, trees and vegetables as healthy as possible this summer. Among her tips are:
New plants need 1 to 1½ inches of water per week to maintain optimum flowers foliage, roots and fruits.
The best way to water a garden is by soaking the soil thoroughly — but slowly — in one application.
Household “gray water” — such as that leftover from a bath or washing dishes — can be used but with caution.
According to the National Weather Service in Romeoville, while there were slim chances of scattered storms over the weekend and temperatures are supposed to cool off — there is still no significant rain in the short-term forecast models.