Down the Garden Path: Northern Illinois drought continues into fall

Are we still in drought conditions here in northern Illinois? As of Oct. 5, the day before we started to get all the rain, we sure were. Are we good now? We are better off, but not out of the woods.

The rains we got were most welcome, yet the drought monitoring sites still show DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties as abnormally dry to moderately dry on the map released Oct. 7. The next map published may show slightly smaller outlines of the abnormally dry area because of the recent rains.

Last week was the final rainfall report for the season from the Kendall County Rainfall Network. I had mentioned this group earlier this year after it recorded the lowest April rainfall (1.02 inches) in its history, going back to 1990. The report I saw last week had two additional records worth noting: the second lowest August average (0.87 inches) and the second lowest yearly average (13.02 inches).

Related to how dry we have been are how well trees, shrubs and evergreens are doing. Deciduous trees have been dropping leaves early as a means of managing moisture, a lack of good strong fall color is evident, as well, even on those trees and shrubs that have always provided great color. Evergreens give little indication that they are stressed from a lack of water that is easy for us to see; just know that they are.

More obvious to us all is how our lawns have been reacting to the droughty state.

Unless a lawn has been routinely and adequately watered, it has been in this pattern for many weeks. There will be a lot of blame going around as to why parts of the lawn did not come back. Most often, the finger is pointed at grubs, the larval stage of the Japanese and June beetles. More likely in drought times, the grass crowns died from lack of soil moisture.

You may have noticed other parts of the yard signaling you of dry soil. Daylilies are all but gone now; bee balm flowers did not last, limiting hummingbird activity. Even Hosta have seen early leaf loss. In the vegetable garden, plants that produce fruits, such as tomatoes and peppers, slowed or even stopped producing.

There is really not a good side to a summer with limited rain. Garden plants that have clearly declined and have gone dormant early can be cleaned up and, mulched in early. Plant parts that have suffered no disease problems can be added to the compost pile or bin. You should have a lot of them this year as the drier than normal spring did not allow fungal diseases to develop.

Without knowing if rains will be continuing well into the fall, the best management practice I can give is to be sure to water your valued plants right up to the time you take the garden hose off the spigot for the winter.

Want more gardening advice? Our Master Gardener Help Desks are still open for questions via email, phone, or visit. Call 630-553-5823 or visit go.illinois.edu/HelpDeskMGdkk.

• Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. This column originates on his blog at go.illinois.edu/overthegardenfence. To get more tips from Hentschel, watch his “This Week in the Garden” videos on Facebook and YouTube.