This Drought and Your Landscape

large tree with leaves fading to a brownish color
The recent drought has caused premature fall coloring on trees.

Hard to believe fall is right around the corner when summer refuses to go away. As of this writing, it has been 3 weeks without a drop of rain and with 71 days of temperatures in the upper nineties, the gardens are showing it. You know it’s dry when the weeds are wilted.

Dry summers are not that unusual in the South, but if this dry weather continues well into autumn, then plants already stressed will fare poorly this winter. Established plants may tolerate drought better, but still will be more susceptible to winter injury if they are in a stressed condition.

Drought symptoms can be very confusing, and can vary with different types of plants. Woody plants under drought stress can have many symptoms including yellowing, wilting leaves that develop early fall color and burning or scorching on edges of leaves. Plants may drop some or all of their leaves and appear dead.

Most established woody plants recover when watered. Plants that appear to be dead, having dropped all or most of their leaves, might recover when watered. Scrape the outer layer of a twig or the bark to see if a green layer exists, indicating it is still alive. Do not remove this plant the first season. Wait until the following year to see if it recovers, most will.

What you should do:

In dry fall seasons, it is important to water thoroughly every 7-10 days. While woody plants do have some roots that grow very deep, they also have feeder roots. These are the very small roots responsible for the bulk of water uptake that occurs in the top 12-18 inches of soil. Most of these feeder roots are concentrated below the dripline of the plant and beyond, not up close to the trunk. For all landscape plants, allow water to thoroughly soak the target soil area by applying at a slow enough rate to allow penetration; avoid run-off as much as possible. In addition, use mulch wherever possible to conserve moisture.