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plant affected by drought conditions

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Fall has brought a wave of aridity to Alabama along with its pleasant temperatures. In the new climate, homeowners around the state are witnessing their grass brown and plants weaken because of insufficient natural moisture. To assist around the home, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent explains the keys to conquering a dry domain.

Defining a Drought

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), a drought is defined generally as a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period, resulting in a water shortage. A tool from NIDIS–the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM)–contains a national map that showcases the severity of drought conditions.

This monitor is a joint database of the National Drought Mitigation Center, USDA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Each Thursday, the tool releases the latest data across the country and can break down data by region as well as counties.

The levels of severity (deemed by NIDIS) range from abnormally dry (D0) to exceptional drought (D4) on the monitor scale. Alabama’s latest report shows that approximately 64 percent of Alabama is considered abnormally dry and 13.7 percent is under a moderate drought.

Flash Drought

Alabama Extension Urban Regional Agent Hayes Jackson said Alabama is currently in what he considers a flash drought.

“A flash drought is what I call a period of abrupt change in precipitation for a significant amount of time,” Jackson said. “These periods are harsh on turfgrass and plants, so now it is more important than ever to sufficiently water around the home.”

A lack of moisture will make plants more susceptible to disease. Also, while the cool and breezy weather may seem comfortable, wind will exacerbate the dryness of a climate. Watering plants on windy days should warrant applying more H20 than normal because the moving air evaporates water quicker.

Jackson adds that unfortunately, in flash droughts, primary rain sources are tropical systems. When these storms arrive, they tend to impact dryer, more brittle plants and trees, which can be easily disturbed by high winds.

Remedies for Dry Conditions

If watering daily is not a feasible option, watering deeper, less often may be a solution. This method will ensure that soil near roots will obtain enough moisture to sustain a healthy plant or grass for a longer period until the next watering opportunity.

Watering in the morning is best for plants so they have a base of moisture to endure sun exposure and windy conditions. In dry seasons, do not consider a sprinkling of water to be enough. Instead, thoroughly apply moisture to the soil so that stressed plants consistently have healthy resources before overwintering later in the year. Any species potted or planted in the last two years will especially need more water than usual to establish a healthy root system.

“Even though it is typically a dry season, mid-fall is the best time to plant species for the spring,” Jackson said. “By planting them before frosts arrive, the plant will grow a temperature tolerance as well as a stronger root system by spring. Be sure to wait until November rains arrive and soil moisture increases.”

When All Else Fails

When it seems that keeping up with mother nature is impossible, there are some last-ditch practices that can help during drought conditions.

The use of mulch in flower beds will assist in wind deflection and water retention. Jackson said an easy rule of thumb is to closely monitor your plants every day. They will tell you when they are thirsty. Planting drought tolerant species–such as hedge and eastern red cedar (i.e., Juniperus virginiana)– will allow for less maintenance.

“Should you plan to apply herbicides such as glyphosate in dry conditions, boost the intake potential of the undesired species by watering it a day prior to application,” Jackson said. “A healthy weed dies faster.”

Irrigations systems save a lot of time and are convenient for homeowners. Although expensive, these networks of water delivery can apply water in a pinch. It is important that people do not set these systems on a routine and forget them. The moisture needs for every home are different because of topography and sun exposure. Ensure that your irrigation is dynamically applying water levels throughout the seasons by sampling soil in multiple locations a few hours after a cycle.

Dust in the Wind

It’s the same old song in Alabama. Just a drop of water will not do the trick in a dry domain. Stay tuned to weekly updates from the USDM and closely monitor your landscape for lack of moisture. For more information and resources on properly watering around the home, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.

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