Parched Earth: Musings on "Grass is Class"

So it's here we are at last. We all knew we’d get here… approaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  While this summer has not been as harsh as the last, I feel like last summer was something of a learning curb for me: being a new gardener and relatively new landowner during the crazy part of an intense Oklahoma heat wave.

I used to take the stance that if a plant a) does not feed me, and b) can’t survive in my yard without coddling, it’s not meant to be in my yard and I should get a different kind of plant. Survival of the Fittest and adaptation to the landscape and all… but last year I learned different. I watched two large shrubs and a honeysuckle bush, both of which just might be as old as me, struggle to survive. My Oklahoma native silver maple dropped its leaves very early. Patches of my Bermuda grass died off leaving me with bare sandy patches that the feral cats love to use for their personal business. I realized with horror what was happening almost too late… but I started watering my shrubs just in the nick of time. They are still not happy shrubs. They are nowhere near the hardy shrubs they used to be. One of them still hangs on to life with a tentative tendril. But they are not dead shrubs, either.

After last year, I gave in. In unusually intense weather I now water more than my food. My lawn gets periodic sprinkler treatments. My shrubs and other inedible plants get water, too. Even if they live in Oklahoma. I figure if my shrubs can live some 20-some years without much help, then they deserve a hand up, and if they need watering, I can’t expect anything else to live without it, either. I’d rather not be Queen of a sandbox next year. Droughts don’t last forever. Right?


Still. I can’t help but feel slightly guilty when I water. I water responsibly and I don’t overdo it. But I can sometimes just envision the state’s water resources shrinking, the lakes and aquifers drying up, all so I can save my honeysuckle bush and Bermuda grass until the rains return.

When I think of watering lawns, I often am reminded of a quote that came from a fantastic play my college did one year, “As Bees in Honey Drown.” The quote is “Grass is class,” and it comes with a rant about the snooty luxury of lawns. My brownish, crunchy lawn doesn’t make me feel particularly classy… but watering it sure as heck makes me think of that rant with a small degree of paranoia.

Picture from www.Travelok.com
I somehow stumbled upon a thesis paper last week where a student had done some modeling on how climate change might affect Blue River. Blue River. Guys, this is one of my favorite places in the state. Head to head, it battles the Ouachitas and Winding Stair for first place, that’s how much I love Blue River. I admit that I haven’t visited in years, but it felt so lovely and peaceful every time I have been there. Even on busy days I could tuck myself away on some little tributary, listen to the water, watch it swirl around the rocks, and feel like I’m the only person around for miles. (Insert wistful sigh.) I was delighted when I learned that the Nature Conservancy hadacquired a portion of the Blue.

But back to the thesis... which I admit to only skimming. This modeling showed that in future decades the Blue could be one of the waterways (like so many of Oklahoma’s waterways) that become seasonally dry. It’s just modeling, and I hope the predictions don’t come true, but I was dismayed and surprised. The blue is not shallow – in places it is plenty deep enough to swim in it! Right. So I added the bleak image of a dry Blue River bed to my list of water concerns – even if it is not yet realized.

The land adapts. People adapt. If I become the Queen of the sandbox, perhaps I shall develop a love for cacti and Arizona-esque landscape rocks. The hubby might dig it. Meanwhile, I have reluctantly given in to the urban urge to water my lawn. So please forgive me, and wish my shrubberies well. (If they die, will you fetch me a shrubbery?)

Of course you know these watering tips.
  • ·        Spot water if you can.
  • ·        Trickle irrigate or use a soaker hose if you can.
  • ·        Water during the morning or evening to prevent evaporation.
  • ·        It is ok to let your lawn and trees go dormant so long as the roots get enough water to survive until next year… different based on your vegetation (I think I read that Bermuda grass needs a minimum of an inch of water a week during drought to keep the roots alive?), but you can use this handy tool from the good ol' mesonet to tell you what you need to do. 

1 comment:

Constance Burris said...

my boyfriend went to Blue River yesterday and brought back some rocks. before yesterday, i'd never heard of the place. but he says its really beautiful, too.

i am glad your shrubs survived. :-)