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Drought Threatens Survival Of Plants
By Chantel Lott
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Doing a rain dance doesn't guarantee rain, but there are ways to water yards and plants more effectively in a drought.
"Many plants and shrubs are suffering right now from a lack of water," said Norman Winter, a horticulture specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "Most of us would like to alleviate the pain of our precious plants in hopes of saving them from the raging dry heat."
One very effective way to maintain greenery in dry weather is to train plants, trees and shrubs. Do this by watering the plants to encourage the roots to stretch further into the soil.
A quick wetting of the topsoil does not challenge roots to extend themselves in search of water. When the sun dries the topsoil, the roots have no way to get water.
However, allowing water to slowly seep in deep will give plants an underground reserve of water. When the sun again dries the topsoil, roots, will continue to dig in search for water as they have been trained.
"You can purchase plants with reputations of being as tough as nails, but these plants are not impervious to drought," Winter said. "Without sufficient water, any plant can die."
Training a plant involves watering techniques that vary from soil type to soil type and from plant to plant. In tight soil that is extremely dry, water penetration is difficult. Irrigate until just before the water runs off. Wait 20 to 30 minutes and repeat the process. The water will eventually soak in. A lot of water is wasted by simply flowing off tight clay into the street.
It also helps to analyze the soil around your plants. One doesn't need a Ph.D. to know that clay ground doesn't soak up water quickly or easily, or that sand is not a choice soil, either. Try mixing organic matter into clay to increase the number and size of cavities that hold water. Organic matter can help sandy soil be more stable, hold plants better and retain more water.
Prepare plants to battle temperature exceeding 100 degrees by watering them in the early morning. The morning sun also helps dry the foliage, and lessens the likelihood of leaf disease.
If morning waterings are not an option, water plants when possible. The goal is to keep them alive. A 5 p.m. watering after work is better than no watering at all.
Water plants in containers until the water flows out of the bottom to ensure that the soil inside is moistened. Allow a minute for it to soak in, and then water it a little more.
Southern plants such as azaleas, camellias and hollies that have flourished for several years and have grown large are very difficult to replace. Large specimens can cost hundreds of dollars, so watering them well, even in drought, is simply maintaining the investment of a good plant.
Should the yard need new plants, fall is an excellent time to put them in. Although they may not be pretty at first, their root systems can develop all winter, preparing the plants to thrive in the spring. Keep fall plantings well-watered.
Watering plants every day for an extended period of time can be costly. Typically, the price of water does not increase, but the usage does. Since extra water usage adds cost, save money by focusing where the water is used. Don't water sidewalks, streets, sides of the house or other inorganic spots.
There are several ways to effectively use and conserve water during a drought. These include drip irrigation, T-tape and a micro- jet irrigation system.
The drip irrigation system carries water through flexible tubing and slowly releases it near plants. The soil is not overloaded nor is water wasted in puddles. The increased exposure to water promotes deep root growth, and little water is evaporated or wasted. Another advantage is that the foliage of the plants is not showered with water, which can lead to disease.
T-tape is best used in gardens with defined rows and cut beds. It is similar to drip irrigation because the water is slowly released. It is an excellent choice for economical use of water in dry weather.
The micro-jet irrigation system may be the best choice for trees, grass, shrubs or flowers in the same bed. Small, revolving tubes of water produce a spray that is not prone to evaporation. Most watering systems are available at your local garden center.