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A drought-stressed mum in a residential backyard.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – As the calendar flips to October, there is no denying it: Alabama is dry. Not only is everything dusty and wrinkled but residents are also having to change their routines to account for drought. Whether around the house or on the farm, Alabama Cooperative Extension System experts share tips to mitigate drought’s grip.

How bad is it?

The term drought is objectively defined as an extended period of little to no precipitation – resulting in a water shortage. The effects of these periods are measured nationally by the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). Their tool, the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), gathers and displays this data in a map for people to observe. This monitor is a joint database of the National Drought Mitigation Center, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The levels of severity deemed by NIDIS range from abnormally dry (D0) to exceptional drought (D4) on the monitor scale. The Oct. 5 drought monitor indicates more than 22% of Alabama is considered at least abnormally dry (D0) and approximately 74% of Alabamians are experiencing drought (D1 to D4). Also, 6% of southwest portions of the state are facing extreme drought conditions (D3).

Alabamians can see how drought is affecting their area in real time, down to the county, thanks to the USDM. Alabama Extension uses drought research to help better serve its stakeholders by reporting some of this same drought data. The information gathered by Extension professionals will, in turn, help policy makers with decisions related to drought effects.

It’s Dry Out ThereWatering a mum in a backyard

If your chrysanthemums are seeming dry and crusty, Alabama Extension Regional Agent Hayes Jackson said it may be because of a lack of routine watering.

“We are getting calls from people who planted things this summer and they are dying due to lack of watering,” Jackson said. “We’re having spotty rain showers as well. It’s like Swiss cheese. People just several miles apart could have dramatically different rainfall amounts.”

2023 has been a difficult year for landscapes, gardens and even farms. Late freezes and drought has crippled some seasonal plantings. These environments, combined with the fact that October is the driest month of fall, makes for an unfortunate and dry recipe.

“October is our driest month each year for horticulture,” Jackson said. “We depend on tropical systems this time of year to bring larger amounts of water and most of our systems have stayed over the ocean.”

Jackson said this tropical turmoil is not all bad news. Along with rain, hurricanes and tropical storms also have the potential to bring more immediate effects than droughts could produce, such as wind and flood damage.

Drought on the Farm

According to the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, there are multiple Alabama counties that have been declared as natural disaster areas by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack. Primary counties in this designation are Baldwin, Conecuh, Escambia, Mobile and Monroe. Contiguous counties under disaster status include Butler, Clarke, Covington, Washington and Wilcox.

The opportunity to apply for emergency loans will be available to farmers who meet the appropriate criteria as determined by the USDA. This funding will help supply recovery needs such as livestock and equipment or refinancing operational debts. To learn more about this available funding, visit your local USDA Service Center to inquire about disaster program options.

Water Less Often

Yes, watering less often may seem counterintuitive when discussing drought. However, watering less often and saturating soil deeper than usual is an effective way to combat drought. When watering daily, the applied water amount is subjective to the conditions at that time and may not evenly distribute water.

“You can ask any gardener that hose sprinklers are nothing like a good rain,” Jackson said. “Give plants good soakings. Applying 3 to 4 inches of mulch can also help retain moisture.”

When planting popular fall species, wait later to plants until temperatures are not hotter for longer durations. Aridity also has effects on daytime temperatures. When the ground is dry, it gets colder at night, making moisture imperative for plant survival.

More Information

Drought’s effects are different in every corner of Alabama. For more information about how to prevent your plants from succumbing to dry conditions, contact your local Alabama Extension office.

Watering tips are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to home grounds care. Search for more tips in the Lawn & Garden section of the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.