How to deal with summer heat, drought in your Texas garden

Mondograss sometimes turns brown in the summer heat, but they usually don't have to be replaced and can be rescued with proper watering.

Mondograss sometimes turns brown in the summer heat, but they usually don’t have to be replaced and can be rescued with proper watering.

Special to the Star-Telegram

It’s my fervent hope that I’ll soon be able to move back to general gardening topics like “great trees” or “delicious vegetables,” but when there’s a biblical drought shrouding our surroundings it’s hard to look out the window and think about daisies and daffodils.

So, here’s what I’ve faced day-to-day over the past month. These are representative of the questions I’ve been fielding. They’re like bad-bounce hard grounders, and I’ve done the best that I could to help each person who asked them in all sincerity.

My St. Augustine has totally burned up. Will it come back when it starts raining?

The problem here is that St. Augustine lacks the underground runners that bermudagrass has. Those are the rescue plan. Those are the plant parts that allow bermuda lawns to green up again after drought — even after grassfires. St. Augustine that turns completely tan, runners and all, has no such backup supply. If it looks dead, it is dead.

And there’s another big problem. I always ask these people if, by coincidence, they notice that the “burned up” parts of their yard are all out in full sun. “Why, yes they are!” is usually the reply. That’s when I warn them that what they thought was drought damage might actually have been the work of chinch bugs. They make a lawn look like it’s dry, but watering won’t help it. You have to learn to look for chinch bugs. (They’ll come back to the same hot, sunny spots each summer.) And you have to learn what they look like so you can treat when they first arrive.

My hollies have developed yellowed spots on their leaves, then the entire leaf turns brown and hangs in place. Is this a disease?

It is not a disease. These plants have gotten too dry. Hollies don’t wilt (except on very soft, new growth). It’s more difficult to tell when they’re getting dry, but veteran nursery workers and landscapers know the telltale insipid olive drab green that they turn as they’re getting dry. Leave them in that condition for even a day at the kinds of temperatures we’ve been having and you’re probably going to lose them.

Sadly, hollies lack much ability to send out new growth from below. This kind of loss has been especially common with new plants set out in 2021 or 2022, but I’ve seen plenty of landscapes with 15-year-old, large and mature hollies that have been lost due to drought. Just one or two soakings mid-summer would have saved them.

Is this a good time to plant new grass to fill in the voids of dead turf?

In a normal year the best time for planting new St. Augustine, bermuda or zoysia turf is mid-April through late August, so this should qualify as the tail end of the “good” time. However, this year has been anything but normal. Most of my answer will depend on your local water restrictions and whether you would be allowed to irrigate the new turf once or twice daily (5 minutes per time) for the first week or two following its planting.

If that’s out of the question you’d be better off waiting until next spring. As I’ve been telling folks recently, everyone knows why your lawn looks the way it does. Most lawns have blemishes. No one is going to point fingers at you. If you have to wait it’s not the end of the world.

All of that counts double with bermudagrass seedings. That seed is so tiny that there is no margin of error. It must be watered morning and evening for 5 or 8 minutes — just enough to keep its soil from drying out in between irrigations. After two weeks you can gradually step it back.

Do the drought and heat change the timing of our fall application of pre-emergent weedkiller granules?

They might. If it stays hot and dry they certainly would. However, the gradual shift toward slightly cooler weather and more chances for rain suggest that the timing will remain the same. You will want to apply Dimension, Balan or Halts granules by Labor Day to prevent germination of annual bluegrass (Poa annua), rescuegrass and ryegrass. (Obviously, do not apply these if you intend to seed bermuda or ryegrass this fall.)

It should be noted that there is research underway at 16 state universities across the South to determine how best to cope with resistance annual bluegrass that has built up to these pre-emergent granules. I’ve sent inquiries to several of the research scientists and will let you know as soon as I hear back. However, this first treatment is definitely still “on.”

My liriope and mondograss groundcover beds have turned brown. Do I need to replace them?

Almost certainly not. Pull on the plants. If they separate easily from the soil, especially if the crowns are rotted, then the plants are probably lost and will need to be replaced. However, in most cases the plants have just gotten too dry and have browned back only to the ground. The crowns and roots should still be fine. You should be able to expect new growth yet this fall or for sure next spring.

Use a line trimmer to clean the bed up if you wish. I have a couple of beds where a sprinkler head was broken by a large truck without my realizing it. Before I knew it the bed was browned. I’m not going to fertilize the bed yet, but I’m keeping it properly watered.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570 AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820 AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am Join him at www.neilsperry.com and follow him on Facebook.

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