Horticultural Outlook : What’s Going on with Water and Stressed Evergreens?

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    Midwesterners are feeling the squeeze as the record drought continues. They’re forced to choose between potentially loosing tens of thousands of dollars of turf and landscapes and increasing water usage to keep their landscapes and lawns alive. This is a no-win scenario.

    You may be asking why your water bill is so high or why your plants are declining. If so, you’re not alone. We’re all asking those questions.

    What’s Happening

    We’re in the middle of what weather experts are calling the most severe drought in the  last 89 years. This multi-month drought has sapped the moisture out of our soils and is not predicted to get better in the next few months.
    The United States Drought Monitor site has mapped the Kansas City region as falling into the “Extreme to Exceptional” category.

    (See source: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ConditionsOutlooks/CurrentConditions.aspx)

    Outdoor landscape Kansas City

    How Are Our Landscapes Affected in Kansas City?

    Plant health and vitality are directly linked to the environment they’re living in. The drought combined with a pattern of extreme heat in summer and extreme cold spells in
    winter has caused abnormal stresses on both new and old plants. If you have evergreens, the stress is more significant.

    (See post here explaining the science: https://www.instagram.com/p/CjRB91lpVmF/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link )

    Watering is the primary way to attempt to overcome these environmental stressors. Even with watering appropriately, the stressors can be too much.

    We’re receiving calls from people who don’t have irrigation plans who have lost their lawns and landscapes from not watering enough. We’re also receiving calls from people who have saved their landscapes with irrigation plans who are upset because they’re using extra water. Nobody is winning in this scenario. You either save your landscape and lawn with extra water use, or you risk losing it and having to replace it all. That’s the harsh reality of extreme drought conditions.

    What Can You Do?

    · If your irrigation provider has been making suggestions about needed repairs, clock replacements, or improvements, now may be the time to ensure your system is as
    efficient as you can get it by making those improvements.
    · Proactively plan to have your evergreens and plants less than five years old hand-watered this winter if you have your irrigation system winterized. This may be an extra
    investment, but will help protect your landscape investment. Please let your account manager know if you’d like to have a watering plan for winter.
    · Determine if the value of your turf and landscape is worth more than the water bills. If you determine you’d rather turn down the water to less than horticulturally needed, you have the authority to make that decision. Just understand the consequences of that decision may result in significant loss.
    · Consider other ways to conserve water or reuse water. Rain barrels, cisterns, drainage swale systems, rain gardens, permeable patios/drives, and many other types
    of projects can help mitigate these challenges in the future.

    Drought Map image Kansas City

    What’s Next?

    Recovery from drought conditions is not a quick process. It requires deep, saturating moisture over time to get the soil conditions back to normal. This means that we may
    have several months if not into 2024 before we begin recovering. This means having conversations with your care providers about your priorities and expectations is
    incredibly important.

    · Decide how you’d like to address moisture in wintertime when your irrigation system is winterized.
    · Sit down with any decision makers in your home to prioritize how you’d like to address water usage versus plant loss risk.
    · Communicate with your account manager or care provider if you have questions or concerns.
    · Consider making those irrigation system improvements. Saving water is incredibly important right now.

    As we’re all struggling to keep plants and lawns alive, we think about the farmers and ranchers who are struggling. Their battle to overcome these conditions should not be
    Many states are beginning to implement policies limiting water use for lawn/landscape purposes to ensure people, animals, and farms have access to water. While this hasn’t happened in our region at this time, we must understand that at some point, your irrigation choices may become limited. Some municipalities are raising water prices to passively discourage water use. We encourage you to monitor your water for all parts of your property during this time.

    (Photo Source: United States Drought Monitor)

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    About The Author

    Robyn is a 2009 Graduate of the Kansas State University Department of Horticulture. She grew up in South East Kansas where she graduated from Humboldt High School. She was a Kansas State University Leadership Scholar and President of the Horticulture Club. She married Bret in 2009 and they have a daughter Ellie, born in 2021. Their family is completed by three adopted dogs.

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