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Drought hangover
Spring means time to mend the damage from last summerís harsh conditions


April 2013

The drought of 2012 may have left your lawn looking more brown and crunchy than green and lush. Now that another winter has passed and spring is upon us, what can we expect from our lawns and gardens?

"Most lawns will show some signs of heat stress from 2012. Expect to see patches of turf that will not recover come spring. If these areas did not show some signs of recovery last fall, itís unlikely they will bounce back," says Kristi Gruenhagen of Landworks Landscape Services in Sussex. "Severe or long periods of drought like we had last year can permanently damage the crown of the grass plant. Slit-seeding or over-seeding will be required in these situations," she says.

Michael Patek, president of Cottage Gardener in Sussex, agrees. "If you didnít attempt to take care of the dead spots last year, you will have to try to do it this year. You might have better success if you get going early in the spring," he says. "Rake out the dead material and plant some grass seed."

You will likely know by May if your plants and shrubs survived, Patek says. Some plants may green up early in the spring, but donít jump to conclusions if everything doesnít look green right away. "If youíre wondering about a shrub, you can always scratch off some of the bark and see if thereís a green layer under it. But if you donít want to nurse plants back to life, you can replace them. Many people prefer low-maintenance gardens," he says.

"Larger trees and shrubs with deeper root systems can handle longer periods of drought. However, this spring they might continue to show signs of stress, including increased risk of disease," Gruenhagen says. Nevertheless, there are steps you can take to avoid problems in the event of another scorching summer. An important strategy is to choose plants that are relatively self-sufficient and donít need a lot of water, she says.

In general, native plants are more tolerant of dry conditions, Patek says. "Plants indigenous to this region are typically well-adapted to local conditions. They can handle even the extremes in temperature," he adds.

Discover Drought-Tolerant plants

Trees: Hackberry, Lace Bark Elm, Honey Locust, Ironwood and Hawthorn

Shrubs: Bush Honeysuckle, Gray Dogwood, Sumac, Cotoneaster, Barberry, Ninebark, Rugosa Rose, low growing evergreens, and Snowberry

Native Grasses: Red Switchgrass, Bluestem, Sedge

Perennials: Russian Sage, Salvia, Sedums, Alliums, Yarrow, Daylilies, Coneflower, Rudbeckia, Barrenwort, Geranium Macrorrhizum

For help with plant selection and other information, local UW-Extension service websites are good sources that take into account Wisconsin soil conditions and climate.


This story ran in the April 2013 issue of: