Local gardeners battle heat, lack of rain to try to save plants
Libertyville resident Tony Kirch waters one of his garden areas on Friday, July 6, 2012, at his home. Kirch and many others are trying to deal with the extreme heat and trying to maintain their plants and flowers. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times
Updated: August 13, 2012 7:07AM
LIBERTVILLE -- It’s been a tough summer for avid gardeners like Tony Kirch.
“We’re sort of in a survival mode,” said Kirch, a resident of Libertyville, and a board member for the Gardeners of Central Lake County. “We’ve probably had a half-inch of rain in the last six weeks. It’s bad. I’ve never seen it this bad in the 18 years I’ve been here.”
Kirch typically goes out early in the morning between 7 and 10 a.m. to water his plants. It’s the best time to water plants the limit the evaporation of moisture and also tends to be cooler than the afternoons, where temperatures last week soared to more than 100 degrees for three days straight.
While Kirch’s garden overall looks in pretty good condition, many of the hostas and perennials are showing signs of distress and leaves are wilting under the heat.
“Plants are like people,” he said. “When the conditions are wonderful, they tend to live longer and not be under as much stress. In these conditions, plants are more likely to die.”
Gardener Bo Johnson of Mundelein is also feeling the heat with the vegetable and flower garden at her home.
Johnson maintains a 15 by 40 foot vegetable garden where she grows tomatoes, zucchini, beans, watermelons and other vegetables and fruits. She also has a flower garden where she primarily grows perennials.
“I’ve been looking at my vegetable garden a lot more than in past years,” she said. “Any of the melons take a lot of water. In this heat, it’s a constant battle to keep it moist.”
Johnson said overall most of the vegetables are doing pretty well so far, but some such as the tomatoes are smaller than in past years.
Johnson, a board member for the Gardeners of Central Lake County, donates many of the vegetables she harvests from her vegetable garden to local food pantries. Her primary focus this summer has been on maintaining the vegetable garden, which means she cannot devote as much attention to her flowers and other plants. “I’ve pretty much given up on the perennials,” she said.
Kirch said gardeners can take some simple steps to preserve water and protect their plants in the extreme hot, dry conditions. Watering in the early morning hours reduces evaporation. Using soaker hoses that slowly leak water into the ground over a period of time are more effective than sprinkling plants or flowers for only a few minutes, he said.
Certain types of plants and flowers such as hostas or annuals with shallow roots tend to need more water than native plant species or trees with deeper root systems, Kirch said.
“You can tell when they need water,” he said. “The leaves tend to point downward on the plants.”
Adding mulch can also reduce the need for watering, he said.
Residents should avoid sprinkling of lawns, which tend to go dormant when conditions are dry, and will recover after it rains, he said. The exception would be areas of newly planted or sodded lawns which need watering.
“I would advise people not to do a lot of planting, unless we get a lot of rain, because the ground is so dry,” he said.