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Landscape Plants Struggling with Precipitation Extremes

August 16, 2019

It was just a few short months ago that we were all wondering if it would ever stop raining. Now, soil moisture is all but gone, and many plants are showing drought symptoms. The rains that we have had have been very scattered, so some have been fortunate to receive a timely rain, while the sun never stopped shining on the neighbors down the road. Large swings in both moisture and temperatures that we have experiences over the last few years is stressing out plants, and when plants are stressed they are also more susceptible to other pests such as disease and insects.

It has been a prediction for several years now, that with the onset of climate change, the Midwest will experience more rainfall throughout the year; however, there will be fewer rain events. This means, flooding and drought will occur during the same season, which is exactly what is happening this year. It is hard to believe looking at lawns and crops around the area that we are still well above our precipitation average for the year. This is a hard thing for plants to adjust to.

If these weather changes continue, which all indications are that they will, it is important to be proactive in making the necessary adjustments to our landscape. Some things to consider might include: investing in irrigation, while also installing drain tile to move water out of landscape beds and lawns. Grading work can also be effective in keeping water away from plants. Mulching will also help, as it helps conserve moisture. If you have an area that continually floods, you might look into installing a rain garden. It will also be important going forward to select more stress tolerant plants for your landscape.

One group of plants that is more susceptible to climate extremes are evergreen species, particularly in heavier, clay soils. Periods of both dry soils and ‘wet feet’ are difficult for them to tolerate. Unfortunately, when evergreen species begin showing stress symptoms, it is often times too late to reverse. This is because their needles have an amazing ability to hold on to moisture and look fine for long periods of time, all while the rest of the plant is struggling. For an example of this, look to Christmas trees that have been chopped, which can look healthy for several weeks despite not having a root system at all.

It is impossible to know what the future holds, so the important thing going forward will be to stay on our toes in terms of keeping an eye on plants and detecting stress early and often, while being proactive in getting problems corrected.

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