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  • Thinking positively

    Summer’s heat and drought have a positive side — really

    Argh! Who really wants to think of gardening right now? After a wonderful early spring that made us wish it would just go on and on and on and on for the rest of the year, summer descended on us like a ­vampire, sucking all the life out of us and our plants.

    Autumn will eventually arrive followed by winter, which may be cold enough to make us wish in January that July would come quickly. Midwesterners are never satisfied with the weather.

    Until then, there’s nothing you can do but water if you can. If you can’t, there’s nothing to be gained by ­worrying, so don’t. Yes…easier said than done. (I can, and did, water and water and water and water. The water company thanks me.)

    Of course, plants don’t particularly like heat and drought, though some cacti and succulents seem not to mind too much, and with a little water, many of the tropical-oriented plants seemed to thrive.

    There are (assuming the heat and drought are still around when you read this) or were (if the weather finally broke and we had inches and inches of rain and 70 degree ­temperatures) some positive things to come from heat and the lack of rain.

    First, drought will eventually improve the soil’s structure though it’s hard to tell when cracks go at least halfway to the center of the earth. Just like freezing and thawing during the winter pushes the soil pieces around, drought shrinks the sand, silt and/or clay to the point when we finally do get some moisture, the soil will act like a sponge. A heavier soil will be a little fluffier with more pores.

    While we don’t like heat and drought, neither do the insects. That’s point Number 2.

    Mosquitoes? Not a problem, but if we were to be realistic, who really was out in the heat in the first place to see if they were. But they weren’t.

    Japanese beetles? We seemed poised for a major feeding frenzy due to the ultra-mild winter and little soil freezing which might have killed some grubs. The early spring added to the “uh-oh, they’re coming” factor.

    The initial emergence, on schedule in southern Illinois but late in central Illinois, seemed to confirm fears of massive feeding.

    But something happened. Some think it might be some diseases, but what beetles did come out really didn’t like the 100+ degree days and dry conditions. It seemed as if every day over 100 degrees F. was knocking off five days of their life.

    And to top it off, the ground has been so hard that it’s almost impossible for the Japanese beetle females, as well as the June beetle female, to lay eggs in the turf. That means fewer grubs to cause problems this fall.

    It doesn’t take a turf scientist, though, to tell you that grubs would be the farthest thing from most homeowners’ minds. The grass looks dead in the first place, so what would a little grub damage do?

    Finally, heat makes us appreciate cooler weather, and provides us with some guidelines on what plants can actually survive drought conditions. Don’t miss this opportunity to look around and say “hey, maybe that’s a plant I want in my yard.”

    David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois. drobson@illinoi

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