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Tips for keeping your lawn happy during drought

* This article originally appeared in the Charlotte Observer.

“Can my lawn be saved?” That’s often the first question to pop up when drought is discussed. Farmers worry about their vegetables (it’s bad enough without our peaches this summer; imagine an August picnic without fresh corn), but homeowners fear for their rolling wave of green out front. According to the Clemson Extension Service, South Carolina has experienced drought conditions during eight of the last ten years. Until the rain is more frequent, you’ll just have to muddle through. The key to protecting your plants – your lawn, your veggies and your ornamentals – is watering correctly. Here are some tips:

  • Water early in the morning. If you water in the afternoon, you’re wasting your time because the water evaporates so quickly.

  • If you have an automatic sprinkler system, make sure the timer is set correctly. Or even better, turn off the timer and turn the system on only when you need to water. Install a rain shut-off device, so your sprinklers aren’t merrily pumping away during a rainstorm.

  • Lawns can go without a watering for up to two weeks after a heavy rain.

  • Water your trees before your lawn. Drought is terribly damaging to trees. When stressed, small cracks can appear in their bark, which means insects and disease can enter.

  • Mulch your plants. Shredded bark is tops in moisture preservation, but wood chips work, too. Remember that weeds are out there competing with your plants for water.

  • Use soaker hoses whenever possible. They get water directly to the roots, and you're not wasting water through evaporation or by having it end up on plants’ leaves. Drip systems are 95% efficient, meaning only 5% of the water is wasted to evaporation or runoff. Rotary sprinklers can waste up to 30%.

  • Ask for paper bags instead of plastic at the grocery store. Use them as a weed barrier in the garden; they break down naturally and help conserve water.

Back to the farmers . . . What about our summer vegetables?

“We’ve started picking our tomatoes and squash. We’re waiting to see what happens with the corn,” said Marsha Black of Black’s Peaches in York. Her husband, Arthur, thinks the sweet corn will be all right, “but that’s because we irrigate it.” The hay has been very short (not good); they don’t have blackberries or blueberries; they just lost an acre of scuppernongs. All this on top of the devastating freeze that killed off this year’s peach crop. There is some good news. “The rain last week helped a lot,” Arthur Black said. “We had 30 acres of young peach trees that had just stopped growing. But now I see they’re starting to put on new growth.”

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