Avoiding Plant Stress from Hot and Dry Conditions

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I was just at a conference for agricultural county agents from across the state in Wichita Falls. Their average annual rainfall is somewhere around 25-27 inches – fully half what our 35-year average is. Yet we know that each summer, we expect to get both hot and dry conditions. And since our temperatures continue to look unruly, let’s talk about water stress and how it affects plants.

Recognizing drought stress is crucial, as many plants shut down their specialized leaf tissue openings (stomates) to minimize dehydration loss. With continued drought and high temperatures, this can lead to internal heat load which limits the plant’s ability to function and causes partial or complete collapse of the plant. Even without a complete demise, drought-stressed plants are highly vulnerable to pests such as insects and disease.

Yet there are things you can do. Not only water but make sure you follow good watering practices. We’ll first talk about trees and shrubs.

Give trees a good, deep soaking from irrigation once, maybe twice a week. Newly planted trees and shrubs (1-3 years old) need watering twice a week. Spread wood chip mulch to about 3-4 inches deep and keep it a couple of inches away from the base of the tree trunk. Avoid ‘volcano mulching’ around the tree trunk. With trees and shrubs that are mulched, place the soaker hose underneath the mulch to ensure the soil root zone gets adequate water. Control any weeds or turf growing underneath the tree’s dripline area. Both weeds and your turfgrass compete for water with neighboring plants.

Be sure to use mulch and create a wide barrier around your trees and shrubs. Don’t think a small circle is nice. Consider making a 6-foot diameter mulched area around even the youngest trees. This is an excellent way to conserve water for the plants it surrounds and, again, helps prevent weeds.

What should you NOT do? Don’t fertilize drought-stressed trees and shrubs. Avoid unnecessary pruning or transplanting them as well. Wait until cooler months to prune and wait until the dead of winter to have the best success at transplanting a small tree or shrub.

Continue using mulch in your vegetable gardens and flower beds. Use any kind of bark or pine straw that we have abundantly in our area. Before watering potted plants, check the soil moisture by poking a finger an inch deep into the soil media. If the soil is dry, give a good soaking.

Try to avoid the temptation to shower the plant leaves but rather water gently around the base of the plants and avoid splashing on its leaves. Morning hours are best, by far, for watering plants. Use your hoe to rid the garden of weeds and reapply mulch as needed.

Hot summer weather is not the time to use a conventional granular fertilizer on vegetable gardens. If you must fertilize, use products containing some slow-release formulation and water it immediately after application.

The same holds true in your flower beds. Water the perennials when the soil surface dries out moderately. Place the drip hose a few inches away from the crown of the plant and water deeply. If using a wand, direct the flow of the water around the base of the plant. Again, avoid overhead watering to prevent foliar diseases. Water early in the morning to reduce evaporation loss.

The Angelina County Extension office will be holding their Noon Gardening Program on July 18 on “Water Conservation in the Landscape”. The program will be from 12- 1 pm. Our guest speaker is Chanelle Svehla, County Extension Agent in Sabine County.  She will be discussing irrigation strategies for the landscape. This event is hosted by local Volunteer Master Gardeners.

Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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