With the regular rains and spring-like temperatures, it is easy to forget that we were facing a drought just a few months ago. Whether it was the fall temperatures or the mild-mannered election season (joking, of course), the lack of rainfall might not have garnered the attention of all. Nevertheless, I have a sinking feeling that it might have been the final “nail in the coffin” for some of our landscape plants.
One thing that many people don’t often realize is that plants are much like humans in that many problems are chronic and cumulative. Often, there isn’t one thing that is responsible for a plant’s death. While this might be the year that a centipede lawn finally succumbs, there likely have been underlying issues for years.
The problems could include improper watering, excessive fertilization, compaction, thatch build-up — the list goes on and on. The fall drought might have been the one thing that finally finished it off. I’m anticipating problems with lawns, trees and everything in between as we move into spring.
Clint Waltz, University of Georgia Extension specialist, notes that hot temperatures and low rainfall in the fall likely sent warm-season grasses into winter dormancy with depleted carbohydrate reserves. Last year, non-irrigated lawns likely suffered drought-induced dormancy and transitioned to winter in a weakened condition. With insufficient energy accumulated in root systems, a thin canopy and a delay in green-up might be seen this spring.
Waltz suggests several tactics to alleviate some of the stress. First, core aerate between the end of April and the middle of May. This will improve air and water flow, which will in turn stimulate new root growth. It is best to use machines that remove ½-inch diameter cores 3 to 4 inches deep. Some landscape companies provide this service. Otherwise, check with local rental companies for short-term use of equipment.
A second tip is to fertilize at the correct time. Do not fertilize with nitrogen until the soil temperature is 65 degrees at 4 inches deep and rising. Keep an eye on the data at the Byron station at georgiaweather.net to know when the time is right.
Finally, at the Extension service, we often talk about the importance of soil samples. Lawn health will greatly improve if the acidity, phosphorous and potassium levels are in the recommended range.
Another group of plants showing the effects of the fall drought are pines. Throughout Middle Georgia, there are an alarming number of pine trees with brown canopies. The Georgia Forestry Commission has reported that the Ips engraver beetles are causing many of the problems.
The beetles are attracted to stressed trees and damaged branches. The trees are most susceptible to attacks from Ips during drought conditions. Unfortunately, there isn’t much recourse for those in urban areas.
Maintaining the health of the tree is crucial. Avoid causing wounds on the tree through pruning or any inadvertent damage. The beetles are attracted to the smell of resin. Remove infected and dead trees as soon as possible. For landowners who are considering having stands of pines burned or thinned this spring, GFC is recommending postponement.
For assistance in both urban and rural settings, consider consulting with a professional forester or certified arborist.
Be patient as our plants transition from dormancy to growth. Even in “normal” years, plants should be left to transition without much intervention. I’d urge you to do the same this year. Be patient and keep your fingers crossed!
▪ Green-Up at Middle Georgia State University: March 3. While this event is geared toward the green industry and landscapers, all are welcome. Topics covered by UGA specialists will include turf grass and ornamental outlook for the spring, calibration and an update from the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Commercial pesticide CEUs have been requested. For more information, email email@example.com or call 478-987-2028.
Contact county Extension agent Karol Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.