2012 drought impacts on our landscapes

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

The summer of 2012 will go down in history as one of the hottest and driest on record. Consider the 100+ high temperatures in July along with desiccating winds and no rainfall. Our landscape plants have suffered. We can’t change what Mother Nature has subjected us too but we can look towards the future and think of what we can do to help our plant material survive. 2013 will be better!

Soils are dry. Plants pull water up through their roots and this water needs to reach the entire upper portion of the plant. No soil water = no water uptake. It is crucial that we supply water to our plants. Don’t think a 5 minute shower will do it. Plants need lo-o-o-ng deep soakings.

Landscape plants have suffered this year- no question. The 2011-12 winter didn’t help with very little snow to melt into our soils. We went into the summer of 2012 with drier than normal soils. Possible root death has occurred due to simply drying out. Any surface roots exposed to the hot weather also suffered and possibly were killed. Trees, shrubs, evergreens create a balance of roots to shoots. A damaged or dead root means there is no longer a connection to an upper portion of the plant. The result is leaf scorch, tip dieback and possible death of the plant.

Drought damage is tricky. The current obvious damage is easy to recognize but what about the stress buildup and reactions of the plant over time? Just as in humans, stress can build and eventually lead to possible health issues. We have to think back and associate a past event or continuous bad habits that stressed our bodies resulting in this problem. The same thing happens with our landscape plants. Drought damage may not show up for 3-4 years due to the plant using its stored reserves but not able to recoup this energy. Eventually the food reserves are gone and now the plant declines. It is a mortality spiral that happens when plants reach that critical tipping point. It will be hard to associate dead branches 4 years from now with the summer of 2012.

Also realize the turf grass that surrounds your trees and landscape beds is competing for any available water. And guess what – the turf is the first to received rainfall and sucks it all up! The 5-6” of turf roots needs to have its water demands met before it will allow any water to move deeper into the soil.

Predications are fickle - it is impossible to say how ALL your landscape plants in your ENTIRE yard will respond to the summer of 2012. Too many variables exist. But experts agree plants are under stress. Tough decisions need to be made. Face your water bills and supply what all your plants need? Determine your high value plants and water only those? Gamble and see what happens over time? The choice is yours.

Next year you will probably see smaller/shorter perennials since they too need to store food to use next year. Leaf drop this fall may be earlier as the plants shut down quickly to protect food reserves. Evergreens have to bear what Mother Nature hits them with or drop needles to minimize food use. The issue with evergreens is most can’t re-grow new needles so they will look sparse for the next 2 years.

The majority of forecasts are saying we will be in this dry pattern through October. Who knows what winter will bring, but for our plants sake – lets hope for deep snow cover to protect shallow roots and plant crowns from any desiccating winds and for a slow melt in spring to replenish our soils.