Shawnee Dispatch

Hot, dry conditions hammering lawns, foundations, businesses

Austin Heath of Austin’s Lawn Care & Landscaping says the grass in unwatered areas like this park in the Woodland Park subdivision is dead or dying. Enlarge photo

July 23, 2012

Plants can’t avail themselves of lemonade and air conditioning to beat this suffocating weather.

Thus, much of the local flora has been taking a pounding from one of the hottest, driest summers to blister the Midwest since the droughts of 1988 and the 1930s Dust Bowl.

Businesses like Austin’s Lawn Care & Landscaping LLC are taking a hit, as well.

Austin Heath, who owns the Shawnee business, said the majority of his mowing customers don’t have irrigated lawns. During the ongoing heat wave, he’s seen a few of them dragging hoses and sprinklers around their yards for the first time. But there’s no reason to mow many of the lawns Heath normally maintains because the grass hasn’t been watered and has gone dormant or died.

Coming on the heels of a dry winter that produced almost none of the snow-removal revenue most landscaping companies rely on, “it’s been a terrible, slow year,” Heath said.

But fall promises to be a different story, Heath said as he walked across the crunchy brown grass of a neighborhood park he will likely be called on to renovate.

“My advice for anyone who’s going to need lawn renovation is to get on a company’s list,” he said, “because everyone is going to get booked up quick, and there’s a small window for overseeding if you want the seed to germinate and come up this year.”

The best time to overseed and fertilize is from the end of August through September, Heath said, and he normally combines those services with either verticutting or core aeration to ensure the seed gets deep enough to take root.

For those who miss that window, lawn companies can apply dormant grass seed that will start growing next spring, Health said.

However, the best strategy for those whose grass isn’t already dead is to water.

To determine whether grass is dormant or dead, homeowners can pull up individual turf plants and check the crowns, the area between the leaves and roots. If the crown is hard, not papery and dry, the plant is still alive, said Rodney St. Johns, horticulturist for K-State Research and Extension.

Laura Dickinson, coordinator for the Extension Master Gardener Program in Olathe, said an inch of water a week will keep grass alive during ongoing heat wave and drought.

She and Mark Titzman, general manager of Family Tree Nursery, said homeowners also should be watering trees and shrubs, many of which have been dropping their leaves early to conserve water in their trunks and roots.

Titzman recommends “deep, thorough soakings of about one inch of water per week on all newly planted trees and shrubs.”

“And don’t forget your established trees and foundation plants,” Titzman said. “Some of those plants that have been in the ground 15 or 20 years — you might never have watered them. But they need it. Put the hose at the base of those larger plants and soak them for several hours every two to three weeks.”

Like Heath, Titzman said the hot, dry conditions are having a stifling effect on his business.

“When the temperature is over 95 degrees, no one is walking in here,” he said. “I can’t blame them; I wouldn’t plant right now either. Once it cools down again, even just below 90, we’ll start seeing customers again.”

But who knows when that’s going to be?

“We’re on our second big stretch of hot dry weather this summer,” said Shawnee resident Chris Boshart, a system design specialist with Foundation Recovery Systems. “And the forecast says August is going to be even worse.”

Many are predicting the Kansas City area to break its all-time high of 113 degrees wet in August 1936. But after the blistering weather is through taking its toll, Boshart — like Titzman and Heath — expects business to heat up.

Boshart said the long dry spells the region is enduring are causing the ground to contract and gaps to form under and around concrete foundations. And that is causing the foundations to shift, drywall to crack, and doors and windows to get stuck.

Some experts and websites recommend watering foundation walls to prevent those problems. But Boshart said his company doesn’t recommend it.

“If you water around your house and we do get a rain, you could end up creating too much horizontal hydrostatic pressure, which can push your foundation walls inward,” he said.

Better ways to deal with foundation problems include piers to fix vertical settlement issues and mudjacking for slab settlement, he said.

Ron Freyermuth, Shawnee director of public works, said the city also is expecting concrete-related problems as a result of the extreme heat. Concrete curbs, gutters, sidewalk and pavement can buckle during long stretches of 100-plus-degree days, he said.

Fortunately, most of the city’s roadways are made of asphalt, which handles heat better. But one of its longest stretches of pavement, Shawnee Mission Parkway, is made concrete, Freyermuth said, “so we may see some pavement problems there as the heat continues.”

The city also could experience problems with soil contraction and settlement around storm sewer pipes, Freyermuth added.

“You can start to get sinkholes around those pipes,” he said, “though we might not see that damage for months.”

Originally published at: http://www.shawneedispatch.com/news/2012/jul/23/hot-dry-conditions-hammering-lawns-foundations-bus/