Homeowners battling to save their green lawns as Oklahoma endures a second straight summer of extreme heat and drought might as well wave the white flag, according to Oklahoma County's resident urban agriculture expert.
The temperature hit a record 108 degrees Tuesday in Oklahoma City, and highs are forecast near 110 degrees the rest of the week. That kind of heat is tough on lawns, trees and gardens, said Ray Ridlen, agriculture educator at the Oklahoma County Extension Service.
Ridlen said last summer's historic heat wave taught him there is no winning lawn strategy when temperatures soar over 100 degrees for an extended period, with a drought to match.
“I watered and watered,” Ridlen said. “I played that game for months, but the temperatures got so high it just died. I spent all that money and ended up with a dead lawn.”
Ridlen said those who refuse to give up the fight should water deeply and infrequently, encouraging the grass to develop a healthy root system.
“They need to use their water wisely,” he said. “In these types of conditions, our turf irrigation systems aren't the most efficient use of water. You are essentially spoon feeding water to your lawn, which keeps the roots from developing.”
Ridlen said before he gave up on his lawn, he would soak one area with a slow trickle of water for most of the day, and then move the hose to another area overnight.
Choices to make
Most homeowners will have to choose between their lawns and any other trees or plants they might want to maintain as the heat continues, especially in areas where rationing limits when and how much they can water.
“You have to make a decision on what's going to get water,” Ridlen said. “I made the decision that the only green I'm going to have is going to be around my trees. A 5-year-old tree is a lot more important than having a green lawn.”
Most trees are pretty sturdy, Ridlen said. But sweet gums, silver maples and others with shallow roots are having problems. Even some large oak trees are showing signs that the heat is getting to them.
Ridlen said he is fielding lots of calls from homeowners concerned about their large trees, which already went through one historically hot and dry summer and now are enduring another.
“The leaves dropping is a good sign,” Ridlen said. “It means the tree is stressed and is responding. A bad sign is the leaves turn brown and they don't fall off the tree.”