Kansas City is in Horticultural Drought

Agricultural droughts that impact the 3.4 billion-dollar Kansas wheat harvest will gain national media coverage globally, but when we have a drought that effects our lawns and landscapes, it can frequently be overlooked until we realize it is impacting our own homes. Right now, in Kansas City, we are on the verge of seeing damage to lawns and recently planted landscapes that have not occurred in decades according to Jerry Moore of the Grass Pad in Olathe Kansas. “I went into this business 40 plus years ago and had never seen lawns this brown in May”. “Grass looks like it normally does in August and it is still May.” According to the latest data from Eric Luebehusen, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture most of Kansas continues to be in moderate to severe drought with extreme drought in southwest Kansas.

When grass turns brown like this, it allows sunlight to get to the soil and dry it out even faster. The sun will cause our weed preventers to fail, and crabgrass and foxtail will appear earlier this year than usual. When lawns have crabgrass and foxtail epidemics that last more than the typical month of August the desirable grasses are crowded out, and the fall frost will leave the yard bare and susceptible to soil erosion over the winter.

Trees and shrubs planted in the last 3 to 5 years are at risk as well. According to the Morton Arboretum during times of drought like this, the young roots of trees and shrubs are killed outright. The soil becomes hard and compact in the top 1 to 2 feet where the roots live. Plants like trees, shrubs, groundcovers and especially evergreens without adequate watering will suffer much. Massive plant loss is likely if it does not begin to rain. Add these conditions to the increased planting Kansas City has seen recently with the current Real Estate boom these losses will add up to millions of dollars in damage and loss.

People should be diligent about watering their lawns and landscapes. The soil should be saturated at least 12 inches deep. Trees that have been planted in the last five years will not have developed a root system extensive enough to withstand a drought that could go on for six months or more.

Insects, as well as weeds, thrive in these conditions. Ants, fleas, and ticks love dry conditions and will reproduce unharmed by typical spring rainstorms that have missed us. Pets and people should be monitored closely as last weeks warm weather will trigger the hatch cycles of most all pests.