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Trees, plants dying as fall dought continues

Posted Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 9:57 am

By Durant Ashmore

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It's time to consider transplanting plants, trees (11/22/05)
Deciduous shrubs more than "bunch of sticks" (11/15/05)
Autumn leaves are nature's gift for mulching (11/08/05)
Plant colorful winter annuals without delay (11/01/05)
Changing landscape rides in with cold winds (10/25/05)

As you read this, the forecasters are calling for the pitter-patter of tiny raindrops to fall on your windowsill. I know better. It's not going to rain this week. Just like it hasn't rained since Aug. 8. That's two months in the Piedmont without enough rain to slake the thirst of a Mongolian desert warbler. (Mongolian desert warblers are notoriously dry mouthed creatures.)

The reason it hasn't rained here lately is due to a strange confluence of meteorological phenomena. Three mountain peaks in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina form a wedge that directs wind currents to the north and south of us. In addition, the slopes of these mountains are so hot and dry that raindrops turn to steam and evaporate before they hit the ground.

This forms a cycle of drought. When the wedge formed by these mountain peaks are lined up in conjunction with events in the Bermuda triangle, hurricanes form. This still doesn't help us any.

Countervailing winds from hot air in Washington prevent us from getting any rain even if a hurricane does occur. I'm sure that if you pause to ponder these events you will reach the same irrefutable conclusion that I have.

It's so dry right now that weeds are dying. If you look, you will notice that fully mature oak trees that have been established in the wild for 75 years or more are now totally covered in brown, dry leaves. These trees are now dead, and it is due to this drought in 90 degree weather.

Mature dogwoods are dropping like flies. Landscape plants that are on the margin of irrigation coverage, or are planted in natural areas, are dying. Plants that you haven't had to water for years are now desperately in need of life sustaining moisture.

This is the third column in six weeks in which I have stressed the need for additional water. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am emphasizing this again. The most important thing you can do for your landscape right now is to get out the hose.

Plants that are on the margin of suitability for this area are dying. People want plants for their gardens that are distinctly different. This creates interest and keeps gardens from being boring.

Unfortunately, most "different" plants are plants that are on the margins of suitability for our area.

Daphne odora is an example. This is a fantastic plant when it does well. However, it is very fickle in our area. It does great in Columbia and Charleston, where they are common. In our area Daphne suffers from cold damage and is prone to root rot.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce is another plant that is marginal in our area. This plant is gorgeous and grows into a perfect pyramidal shape. It is a superb plant to use in formal gardens and looks great in a nice container.

The problem is, it looks great in a nice container for a few months until it dies. It is simply too hot in our area for dwarf Alberta Spruce. If you have one that is thriving, count your blessings and water it more than you think you need to.

If you haven't aerated and overseeded your fescue lawn by now, be sure to do so right away. This is the optimal time for this procedure. Established lawns should have fescue seed applied at the rate of three pounds per thousand square feet of lawn area.

Use the same amount of seed starter fertilizer (high middle number phosphorus). New lawns require seven pounds per thousand square feet of seed and fertilizer. Lime is beneficial. It requires a soil test to determine the right amount to apply. With a heavy clay soil and poor percolation, gypsum is beneficial.

If you have a warm season lawn such as Bermuda, centipede or zoysia you should apply pre-emergent herbicides at this time. This will really make a difference next spring.

One of the most aggravating things about these grasses is the presence of poanna. Right now poanna seeds are lying in wait all over the surface of your yard. They are biding their time, just waiting for a warm day in February when they will burst forth in all their glory. They look like cute little green grasses for several weeks.

Before you realize it, they form profuse white flowering seed heads all over your well manicured lawn. Now they are not so cute. Poanna dies out in 80-degrees weather, but those seed heads have started the cycle all over again and have the ability to ruin the attractive look you so desire. Apply pre-emergent herbicides now so you won't have a problem next spring.

Whatever you do, be sure to water. The conjunction of mountain wedges, the Bermuda triangle and Washington does not bode well.

Editor's note: Columnist Durant Ashmore, MLA, of Fountain Inn, is certified by the South Carolina Nursery Association. He can be reached at 243-3446 or Monday

Wednesday, June 23  

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