Summer’s sweltering weather means watering is crucial to plants’ survival

07/20/2013 12:00 AM

07/19/2013 11:37 PM

Remember all that rain we got this year?

That was so two weeks ago.

It’s been that long since Kansas City has had any substantial rainfall. And other than scattered showers July 3 and 7, the metro hasn’t seen any widespread rain since late June, according to the National Weather Service.

That dry spell, coupled with hot temperatures, already is taking its toll on lawns and gardens around the area, and at least one water district is asking residents to stagger sprinkling to keep from maxing out the system.

“If we don’t get some rain pretty soon, it’s gonna get desperate again,” said Dennis Patton, horticulture agent for Johnson County Extension.

That’s because lawns, shrubs and trees are still recuperating from last year’s drought. Just as it takes time to enter a drought, it takes time to recover from one.

Some relief could be on the way this weekend, though, said Dan Hawblitzel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Mo. The area’s best chance for rain will be Sunday, and the agency is keeping an eye on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

“It looks likely that several areas will see rain on Sunday,” he said. “If the right conditions come together, it could become widespread, beneficial rainfall for a lot of the area.”

The recent dry spell is caused by a high pressure area to the west that shifted toward Kansas City, Hawblitzel said. A similar high pressure area sat over the metro last summer, causing the extended, historic drought and heat that scorched the Midwest.

But at least that’s not happening this year, he said. Instead, the high pressure area mostly will stay to the west.

“We’ll more or less be on the edge with the drier weather, with occasional rain chances,” Hawblitzel said.

When rain showers are few and far between, people need to pay more attention to how they water their lawns, shrubs and trees, said Betsy Garcia, who is on landscape committee for her western Lenexa neighborhood.

That means watering effectively, she’s telling residents.

“We’re trying to get people not to water every day,” Garcia said. “That’s just not necessary. It’s much better to water three days a week and to water deeply.”

People also need to adjust their expectations, she said.

“They want (their grass) to look real green like it does in the spring,” she said. “But we live in Kansas; it just doesn’t do that.”

Earlier this week, WaterOne in Johnson County urged 15,000 customers in the southern parts of its coverage area to conserve water by voluntarily adopting an odd-even system.

A crush of customers have been watering their lawns from 5 to 7 a.m., especially on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, WaterOne spokeswoman Mandy Cawby said. High use in the southern part of the county was causing the system to approach maximum capacity.

Despite the suggestion, there’s no reason to worry about water shortages in Kansas City, Cawby said. With the Missouri and Kansas rivers nearby, water supply isn’t an issue for metro water companies. Cawby and KC Water Services spokeswoman Jennifer Kincaid said they don’t expect any restrictions this summer.

Team members at Kansas City Community Gardens encourage deep watering at the base of plants, not frequent, light watering from a sprinkler. In addition, team member Bobby Wright said using mulch will help keep what moisture is in the soil there for the plants.

“We preach, even in the rainy season, to mulch,” Wright said.

At this point, Wright said the challenge for gardeners is to get their plants through the heat and into the fall, and to get fall vegetable seeds the moisture they need to germinate.

That’s a big task because in any year, the next six weeks or so are typically the driest, Patton said. Keeping at-risk yards, gardens, trees and shrubs watered this summer is crucial to their long-term survival.

Despite the rainy spring, even short hot and dry periods can put your lawn and garden at serious risk.

“If we’re kind of depleted heading into August, and we don’t get much rain in August, that’s the really scary part,” he said.

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