ParkTalk Blog: Tips on Caring for your Landscape in a Drought

Friday, July 21, 2023

After the driest May and June in recent history, the lawns, shrubs, trees and gardens in our area are still in need of extra care throughout the rest of the summer and fall, even though July rains have been helpful. Naperville Park District's park maintenance staff put together this information for homeowners and businesses.

How serious is the drought?

The Morton Arboretum's July 21, 2023 Plant Health Care Report compares the 2023 precipitation with the historical average as follows:

Although July's rainfall is at normal or above normal levels so far, rainfall in May and June was extremely low. The July 18 Drought Monitor shows that DuPage and Will Counties and many other counties in Illinois are still abnormally dry.

A WTTW report stated that the recent rains have helped, but to recover from the earlier dry months, we need approximately an inch of rainfall each week for the remainder of the growing season.

How does a drought affect different plants in your landscape?

Turf Grass may go dormant during a drought but most likely will be restored with adequate rainfall. You may need to overseed in some areas in the early fall to fill in.

Vegetable Gardens and Annual Flowering Plants may need to be watered daily on hot, dry days or they may die.

Trees and Shrubs can be permanently damaged in a drought if they are newly planted, vulnerable to disease, outside their normal geographical range, planted in a confined space or prefer wet soil. The Morton Arboretum lists drought sensitive trees here. Signs that a tree or shrub is stressed from drought include curling, wilting or falling leaves or leaves that turn yellow or brown.

Stressed tree with yellowing leaves in July

Perennials can withstand drought conditions, however, like trees and shrubs, they need periodic watering.

Native prairie plants in a bed along the Riverwalk

Drought Tolerant Plants. Some plants may be labeled "drought tolerant" because they are adapted to dry environments or need less water than other species. Many plants that are native to Illinois prairies need minimal watering. However, they still need enough water to thrive.

Planting a garden of plants that are adapted to dry conditions is called xeriscaping. Read more about it here.

Caring for Trees in a Drought

Trees are difficult to replace, considering both cost and time needed to grow. Therefore, if you need to prioritize what to water in a drought, trees should be first in line.

Bartlett Tree Experts provide the following helpful tips for watering trees:

This illustration from Bartlett Tree Experts shows where to water trees:

When planning how much to water your landscape, consider that it takes an average of 1 inch of rain to wet 10 inches down in the soil. With severely dry soil, it takes even more. It is important to know how much rain we receive during storms as it can vary drastically from site to site. Naperville is a large city and there are storms that drench south Naperville while leaving north Naperville dry, and vice versa. Consider purchasing a rain gauge for your yard so you can accurately determine how much rain you are receiving.

Caring for Turf, Shrubs and Plants

As with trees, it is best to water turf, shrubs and perennials deeply and relatively infrequently, and ideally in the early morning. During a drought, it is helpful to mow turf less often (once every one or two weeks) and raise the height of the mower blades to leave the grass longer.

Looking Ahead Toward Fall

Experts recommend continuing to water your landscape periodically through autumn until the ground freezes. Read more in this ParkTalk blog posted in 2021 after a dry spring and summer

How Naperville Park District Cares for Parks in Drought Conditions

Read the FAQs that explain best practices in park maintenance during a drought.