From the Vine: Drought Tips

— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch
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According to the North Carolina drought management advisory council, Sampson County is currently experiencing abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions. We have an almost 9” rainfall deficit for 2019. These drought conditions, along with above-average temperatures are putting a tremendous amount of stress on many plant species. Some of these plants were already stressed due to the rainfall from Hurricane Florence, and the wet winter that we had in 2018.

As a result of these stressors, many plants are beginning to die. Shrubs, trees, perennials, and lawns have all been affected by the water roller coaster that we have been on for the past year. Initial symptoms begin as stunted growth, wilting, yellowing or browning of leaves, early leaf drop, dead stems and branches, reduced flower, fruit, and seed production, and lastly, plant death. To mitigate the stress on your landscape plants, there are several do’s and don’ts that you can implement to help your plants make it through these conditions.

Don’t do anything during a drought that will encourage additional growth or add to the stress plants are already under. Skip any fertilizer applications until plants rebound and begin to actively grow. Don’t prune unless it is to remove any dead or dying branches. Remove sick or poorly performing plants, since they are less likely to survive drought than your healthy plants. In overcrowded beds, consider removing some plants to reduce the amount of competition for available water. Pull weeds to prevent them from stealing water that could keep your plants alive. Add mulch to plants to a depth of 2 – 4 inches deep. This will help to conserve water, prevent weeds from germinating, and keep soil temperatures cooler.

Another key to keeping plants alive during drought conditions is to supplement water through irrigation. Irrigation can never replace rainfall, but it can keep plants alive until the next rain event. Fruits and vegetables need to be watered on a regular basis. Add 1 inch of irrigation weekly to keep edible plants healthy and productive. Irrigate during the early morning hours, and on sandy soils you may want to split your irrigation events by irrigating twice a week at a rate of ½ inch for each application. Pecans and other nut bearing trees are beginning to fill the nuts. This is an extremely important time if you want to make any pecans this fall. Pecans need a minimum of 2 inches of rain per week July – September.

Consider letting lawns go dormant during a drought period. Most warm-season grasses in Sampson County are fairly drought resilient and will recover when rainfall returns. If you do irrigate your lawn, ensure that you are putting 1 inch per week and that you are watering deeply to encourage deep root growth.

Newly planted trees and shrubs will be the most drought-sensitive due to their root systems not being fully established. Make sure these plants receive a minimum of 1 inch of irrigation per week.

Remember that when you do irrigate, apply water slowly so it can soak deep into the soil rather than run off the surface. Utilize soaker hoses, treegators, mulch, and rain barrels for deep watering.

If all else fails, keep notes on what lives through these stressful conditions and plan on installing more of those type plants this fall.

For more information on plant stress, drought, or plant selection, contact the  Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer Plant Clinic at 910 592 7161.