Garden expert offers tips on plants, trees and lawn

Garden expert offers tips on plants, trees and lawn

Photo courtesy of Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center – Threadleaf coreopsis, black-eyed Susans and 'Gran Paradiso' make a drought tolerant mix.

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Make the most of moisture Good stewardship is a must for the environment, and it starts in our own backyards with how we use water, a precious resource. Some of us in the Midwest don't have a choice as our communities have enacted water restrictions for drought conditions. Nonetheless, we all can make modifications to our gardening practices that conserve water and yield a bounty of food and flowers.


  • Mulch plants to help the soil retain moisture. Mulch should be 1 to 2 inches deep.

  • Water as needed, but on a weekly, rather than daily basis. Stick your finger in the soil and if it's dry to the second knuckle, water. In small or compact gardens, hand water with a watering can or bucket. For larger gardens, use drip irrigation or soaker hoses that can be worked in the rows and around plants. These methods reduce or eliminate water evaporation and deliver it directly to the soil and the plant's roots.

  • If your veggies are planted in containers, you'll have to monitor the soil moisture regularly and water when the top inch feels dry.


  • Containers need to be monitored regularly. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry. During really hot weather, containers may need watering daily.

  • Mulch annuals and perennials. Mulch shouldn't be deeper than 2 inches. Keep mulch away from the stems and leaves of plants.

  • Annual displays can be watered every week to 10 days, if needed. Develop watering methods as you would for your vegetables.

  • Select perennials that tolerate dry conditions. Native plants are among the best. Established perennials can go two weeks to a month without supplemental watering. Newly planted stock should be watered every week to 10 days until established.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Most established trees and shrubs can go a month to six weeks without water. Water shrubs or trees if their leaves look droopy. Newly planted trees and shrubs should be watered every week to 10 days.

  • Trees and shrubs should have 2 to 3 inches of mulch. Don't allow the mulch to touch the bark or the plants.


  • Of all the plants in the landscape, grass can go the longest without supplemental water. Healthy, established lawns can go six to eight weeks without. It will likely go dormant in that time and turn brown. But once it rains, a healthy lawn will turn green and bounce back. Don't try to plant a new lawn in drought.

  • If and when you water the lawn, do so infrequently, but deeply every 10 days in the cooler temperatures of early morning or late evening. Place a container in the area you are watering. Irrigate the lawn and when an inch of water collects in the container, turn off the sprinkler.

Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis and is part owner and editor of Indiana Living Green magazine. Her work has also appeared in many other publications, including The American Gardener, Garden Gate and Greenhouse Grower. In addition, Meyers Sharp speaks about gardening and sustainable living throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.

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