Archived Story

Drought hard on plants [UPDATED]

Published 4:34am Monday, April 29, 2013 Updated 6:35am Monday, April 29, 2013

We all know how often the long-range weather forecast is correct. Makes us wonder if they throw chicken bones or check the depth of dog hair on the couch to get their numbers. That being said, NOAA predicts the Midwest should have average temperatures and be wetter than normal for April through June. We can only hope.

However, the droughty conditions last year will be seen on plants this year. It started when many of our trees and shrubs were forming buds for this year.

That means we could see fewer flowers and leaves on some woody plants. You may not get a very large apple crop for instance if you didn’t water your tree religiously last summer.

Drought stressed trees and shrubs are more open to attack by diseases and insects, particularly wood boring insects like the Emerald Ash Borer, or the Dutch Elm Borer.

Root systems may have been damaged by the shortage of soil moisture. This can limit the ability of the plant to take up enough water and nutrients from the soil.

Some trees and shrubs had damage to the fine root hairs. If your plants seem to be struggling they may need to be watered more often.

Don’t just stand with the hose for 10 minutes either. Soak the soil to one-third wider than the drip line until the ground feels soggy. Do not fertilize. Drought stressed woody plants need to rebuild damaged roots. They will do this with the food they make naturally through photosynthesis, not artificial fertilizer which can stress the plant more. In this case, watering is more important than fertilizer.

On a different subject, check your trees and shrubs for vole damage. The pointy nosed little stinkers chew off the bark down below the cambium, growing layer.

This is usually right at the soil level. However, if the snow had built up around the tree or shrub, it will be at the snow level.

If the damage is only part way around the plant, it will survive if probably not thrive. If the trunk or stem has been girdled, that trunk or stem is history.

Cut it off below the damage for a shrub. The tree is probably fire wood. Some trees, willow and the poplars, will sprout on the stump.

Let the sprouts grow for a year or so, then remove all but the strongest one. It will grow back into a tree again. They are tough puppies.

We warned you last year about the brown marmorated stink bug and the damage it can do. The bug was found in homes in Duluth, Winona County and the Twin Cities areas.

Be on the lookout for it and bring any suspicious suspects into the Extension office as the state wants to keep track of where they are showing up.

Stay off the grass until you can kneel on it and not get wet knees. Raking or walking on wet soil can damage it.


Bev Johnson, Otter Tail County Master Gardener

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