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Lawn and Garden

Preventing Permanent Damage Caused by Hot and Dry Conditions

by Andrew Jozwik
Johnny Appleseed Greenhouses

(click for larger version)
08/01/2012 - This August has surely been a hot one, so although I am repeating myself, I feel like I should mention the importance of watching the water levels on your plants, especially newly planted ones. Something that can catch you by surprise in the garden is just how fast newly planted plants, trees, and bushes can use up their water when the heat is on. It is very important to keep good tabs on the amount of water they need, especially on trees and shrubs.

Although allowing any plant to run out of water will have bad effects on your investment, trees and shrubs are meant to come back every year so it is important to send them into the winter with as much energy stored up as possible. Trees and shrubs all have a natural survival mechanism that causes them to shed their leaves during a dry period. If you are like me I am sure that you have had the pleasure of watching this happen to newly planted trees, or shrubs in your yard.

In fact I was able to study this in detail a couple years ago on ten profusion crabapples that I planted along my driveway. Usually my wife and son watered those trees faithfully with ten gallons once a week. This water schedule was barely sufficient, but like they say, "The plumber always has the leak". As I mentioned before the water schedule we were on at the house was barely getting those trees by. When fair week came around we completely forgot about those trees. By the time the pig was sold and we had some time to think, the crabapples were already shedding their leaves. Although we caught the problem right when the trees started to brown up, we were too late, and the problem continued to worsen even though we had watered them. Luckily I have had experience with this before, so I knew that the damage we were seeing was a result of the fair week drying event. We continued to water them and they started looking better.

But those trees were not out of the woods yet. By causing them to shed the leaves that they had been using all summer to make food for themselves, and put on new ones, we caused them to use up energy that otherwise would have helped them bud out in the spring. We kept watering them through the season and hoped they had had enough time to allow them to replenish their energy reserves. If not they would not have the ability to force out new leaves in the spring. Well it turned out they didn't, they never came back the next spring. They have been standing as silent reminders of our failure ever since.

I share this story so that you can learn from my mistakes, and save yourself the heartache of watching a plant get damaged needlessly. With evergreens it is even harder, because the damage a drying event might cause may not show up for a week or two after the drying begins to hurt the tree. So it is very hard to pinpoint when they dried out, and you might have started watering it regularly before it shows up which might make you think you are over watering it.

Of all the young trees that I have seen that have died, I would say that about 90% of them died because of water related problems, 9% died at the hands of a backhoe or deer, and maybe 1% died from disease or bugs. Unless we are speaking of aspen -- then it is more likely that 25% die because of watering issues, 25% die from deer, bugs and disease, and the other 50% die just because they feel like it. As trees age they will become more susceptible to disease and insects, but even then there is likely a stressful event that causes them to allow the pests or pathogens to invade them. Many times this stressful event is a drought. So during the hot time of the year, keep a good eye on the moisture level of your new plants, because they can dry out in a hurry, and the effects may not show up for a while. I hope the rest of your season is successful, by the time we talk again next month there is a good chance that we will have seen our first frosty nights of the fall. It is hard to believe that this season is almost over already.

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