This time of year, you should only be watering mature trees and shrubs — no lawns, no gardens, nothing that isn't actively growing right now. Shrubs and newly planted trees need 1 to 2 inches of water every few weeks. Mature trees can take one to 3 inches of water, from a slowly running hose, at the drip line. Water mature trees every month or two.
In the next couple months, as lawns and gardens begin to wake up and be planted, water no more than 1 inch per week, in one application. So pick a day, apply your water and be done. This goes for annuals, perennials, vegetables, and lawns. Watering more than this will create more dependent, shallow root systems. Shallow root systems will not survive the drought unless you are responsible for all the water the plants receive.
Lawns are the biggest water waster in the landscape. Stick to the 1-inch rule, or better yet, let your Bermuda grass go dormant during the summer. In addition, leave the grass longer as the season warms. I encourage those with fescue lawns to let them go. It is counterproductive to baby a cool-season, water hogging lawn through 100-degree temperatures in a drought. Use a mulch layer under shade trees instead. You may consider minimizing some large turf areas and replacing them with low water use flower beds.
When you do decide to water, hand-water as little as possible and early in the day. This ensures less water is lost to evapotranspiration. Any type of aboveground sprayers or sprinklers are very inefficient, so use soaker or drip hoses wherever you can.
Draining ponds and using well water carelessly is no excuse. Fertilizer and herbicide applications shouldn't be applied to drought-stressed plants.
After mowing, don't hose off cement or other areas. Instead use a broom or leaf blower.
Soil improvements can be made to help improve water infiltration and retention. Don't till if you can help it.
Tilling breaks down the soil profile and decreases pore space where air and water reside. In addition, add organic matter, in the form of compost, to the soil. Adding compost is the best way to improve clay soils and increase pore space. Use 1 to 2 inches of compost as a mulch, or underneath a thin layer of bark mulch. You must mulch any plants you want to keep.
Additional drought and weather information can be found at mesonet.org and droughtmonitor.unl.edu.
Tracey Payton Miller,
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service