Strategies to maintain your curb appeal during water-absent periods

No Showers, No Flowers
In recent months, many regions across the United States have been relatively dry with the development of drought-like conditions, which can cause extreme stress to your exterior landscape. Numerous municipalities were affected last year as well by drought conditions and each city or county has become much more vigilant in enforcing watering codes and restrictions. Even properties with irrigation systems can suffer the effects of drought via insufficient saturation or municipality regulated usage. In addition to plant damage or loss, stressful conditions can play host to a myriad of ornamental pest and disease problems.

The Effects of Drought
Cool season turf types like Fescue or Bluegrass are very susceptible to drought conditions. As this type of turf undergoes drought stress it will become brittle and yellowed in color. This happens as the turf enters a period of dormancy as a natural defense against lack of water. Most turf stands that enter dormancy will recover with watering, however, extreme conditions can result in the loss of lawn areas. Whereas warm season turf types will fare a bit better, Centipede turfs will likely not survive a drought. Shrubs and trees will experience die back of leaves and branches, and eventually die if not given adequate water.

So what should you do when water is limited and rain is nowhere in the forecast? Here is some pertinent information that will assist you with your facilities’ exterior maintenance through a damaging drought.

Treating Drought Symptoms
There are several steps that can be taken to ensure minimal damage from drought and, in fact, increase survivability of the turf areas affected.

  • First and foremost, adjust mowing heights. Cool season turf varieties should not be mowed to a height less than three and a half inches. Warm season turfs, such as fairway Bermuda or Zoysia's, should not be mowed to a height less than two and a half inches.
  • Additionally, fertilizer programs should be temporarily postponed as they can cause more damage than good. In any event where a plant is stressed, and a blade of grass is a plant, feeding is counterproductive to growth and maintenance of health. Nutrients will not be absorbed and will likely leach, resulting in a waste of budget dollars. However, programs that combine selective herbicides such as Trimec or Balan with the fertilizer must still be maintained to inhibit weed growth. Separate applications should be made and the fertilizer should be avoided until temperatures cool and rains return.
  • For many species, fall is the best time to plant. This usually allows enough time for plants to become well-established before cooler, wetter weather sets in and provides additional root growth the next spring. Once established, many drought tolerant plants can survive on just the water they receive from normal rainfall. It is important to remember that even drought-tolerant plants, shrubs and trees may occasionally need some additional water, so it is important to learn to recognize signs of heat and water stress. Besides obvious signs of wilting, plants give off other distress signals like dull foliage, premature dropping of leaves and poor flower production.
Drought Tolerant Plants
A professional ESM company can make numerous recommendations regarding plantings, as well as adjustments to irrigation use, ensuring that you have a water-wise exterior with curb appeal. There are hundreds of drought tolerant plants, flowers, shrubs and trees that can add vibrant color and beauty to your landscape. These plants require less water and tend to be more pest and disease resistant, but regardless of how drought tolerant the plants may be, they will still require supplemental watering. The table provides a sampling of these types of plants.

Deciduous Trees Shrubs Annuals Perennials
• Paperbark Maple
• American Hornbeam
• Kousa Dogwood
• American Smoketree
• Washington Hawthorn
• Ginkgo
• Carolina Silverbells
• Goldenraintree
• American Sweetgum
• Loebner Hybrid Magnolia
• Crabapple
• London Planetree
• Oak, Many Species
• Japanese Pagodatree
• Linden
• Lacebark Elm
• Japanese Zelkova
• Bearberry
• Chokeberry
• Heather
• Sweetfern
• Cotoneaster
• Heath
• Pearlbush
• Forsythia
• Panicle Hydrangea
• Shrubby St. John’s Wort
• Bayberry
• Ornamental Sumac
• Saltspray Rose
• Virginia Rose
• Lilac
• Lowbush Blueberry
• Arrowwood
• Pot Marigold
• Ornamental Peppers
• Cockscomb
• Spider Plant
• Cosmos
• Foxglove
• California Poppy
• Strawflower
• Lantana
• Flowering Tobacco
• Geranium
• Petunia
• Moss Rose
• Dusty Miller
• Marigolds
• Verbena
• Wax Begonia
• Anise Hyssop
• Artemisia
• Asters
• False Blue Indigo
• Globe Thistle
• Sea Holly
• Blanket Flower
• Hellebores
• Daylily
• Siberian Iris
• Lavender
• Catmint
• Peony
• Russian Sage
• Phlox
• Black-Eyed Susan
• Thyme
Needled Evergreens Broadleaf Evergreens Vines Ornamental Grasses
• White Fir
• Atlas Cedar
• Japanese Plum Yew
• Sawara False Cypress
• Juniper, Most Species
• Spruce, Most Species
• Pine, Most Species
• Yew, Most Species
• Eastern Arborvitae
• Japanese Holly
• Inkberry
• Meserve Holly
• American Holly
• Dutchman’s Pipe
• Trumpet Creeper
• Anemone Clematis
• Trumpet Honeysuckle
• Virginia Creeper
• American Wisteria
• Feather Reed Grass
• Blue Fescue
• Switch Grass
• Little Blue Stem
• Sedge
• Oatgrass
• Maiden Grass

Save Water & Money
By utilizing drought tolerant plants, you not only reduce your water bill, but you can also reduce maintenance costs. By focusing on plants that prefer dry weather and soils, you reduce the expense of replacing less-hearty plants. Additionally, many municipalities offer incentive programs and rebates for locations that actively pursue zeroscaping and water-wise landscapes.

Water Conservation Tips
  • Always check for leaks in pipes, hoses, faucets, and couplings. Even the smallest drip can waste 20 or more gallons per day.
  • Inspect your irrigation system for leaks and broken heads and repair as soon as possible.
  • Use water from dehumidifiers to water indoor and outdoor plants.
  • Collect condensation from air conditioning units to use for watering plants.
  • Buckets placed under gutter downspouts can collect rainwater for plants or cleaning projects.
  • Make sure you know where your water shut-off valve is located. This could save hundreds of gallons of water and damage to facility if a pipe were to burst.
  • Consider using drought tolerant plants, shrubs and trees.
  • Encourage management, employees and contractors to be a part of a water-conscious community.
Ready to Evaluate Your Exterior Maintenance Services?
If your locations are experiencing drought, quality assurance issues, or simply have trouble completing landscaping specifications for national formats, you might want to consider calling a national ESM company. A management program could improve your current landscaping and customer appeal, reduce your overall expenses, eliminate the worries of liability and provide fluid service to the exterior of all your facilities.

Kevin Dent is CEO of DENTCO, a DeWitt, Michigan-based Exterior Services Management company.