Opinion: In a record drought situation, like this current one, with so many trees and plants at risk, we share a responsibility to help them survive.Opinion: In a record drought situation, like this current one, with so many trees and plants at risk, we share a responsibility to help them survive.Read MoreThe Vancouver Sun – RSS Feed

Opinion: In a record drought situation, like this current one, with so many trees and plants at risk, we share a responsibility to help them survive.

Green spaces have unfortunately become brown spaces in many communities, with many trees experiencing premature leaf drop. Photo by Minter Country Garden /jpg

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In my experience, we’ve never been in such a dire drought situation, not only on the West Coast, but also across much of our province. Our gardens, local parks and woodlands are extremely dry. While under water restrictions, we need to be thoughtful and very strategic about protecting, preserving and rehydrating our soils and plants.

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It’s important to remind ourselves of the value of the plants around us. Plants are constantly producing oxygen and sequestering carbon. Larger trees provide shade and canopy covers that help cool our cities and environments, especially during this continuing warm weather. Surrounding trees provide windbreaks and privacy. They collect pollution particles, which eventually wash into the soil within their driplines. Trees are also home to a vast army of wildlife, including many species of birds that help control damaging insects in our gardens and parks, which, in turn, protects other trees and plants.

Strategic watering isn’t something we should do — it’s something we must and need to do immediately. The most vulnerable plants are those with shallow root systems and those growing in relatively poor soils. It’s critical that hedging cedars, rhododendrons, azaleas and macrophylla hydrangeas, as well as many other plants, have their roots rehydrated. The lack of deep, penetrating moisture stresses plants, causing their leaves to turn brown and drop, and cedars become far more susceptible to insects, like spider mites, that suck their foliage, making the plants even drier. The absence of moisture will cause the roots to dry up, resulting in the death of the plant. This is why, after a long, hot summer, we see so many dead trees in hedges.

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Even though this is the time of year when trees typically begin losing leaves, premature yellowing and leaf drop is often a sign of stress. It’s important to note that even when trees shed their foliage, their roots are still alive and will continue to grow. These semi-dormant trees still need water applied around their driplines to ensure a healthy tree next season.

When you can water within your community restrictions, it’s best to use a soaker hose spread along the root zones of your plants. These weeping hoses are, by far, the most efficient way to get water directly to the roots. Let it run as long as you can, so the water penetrates deep into the soil. As a rule, the outside tips of a tree’s branches are where water is most needed. Once that area has been thoroughly soaked, a layer of fine fir or hemlock bark mulch, applied about two to three inches thick, will help retain that moisture far longer.

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If you are going to water by hand, use a quality hose-end nozzle or water breaker with a minimum of 400 to 1,000 tiny holes. It will distribute the water more evenly into the soil. With evergreens, it’s also wise to soak the foliage to quickly rehydrate the plants and to help prevent a myriad of insect and disease issues. Always try to water in the morning so that the foliage is dry during our now cooler evenings.

Applying a layer of mulch after you water will help retain moisture far longer. Photo by Minter Country Garden /jpg

With our soils being so dry, often water will initially puddle, instead of penetrating into the soil. The trick is to let the water slowly seep into the soil, allowing it to restore the porous soil structure needed for water to flow through more easily. It will take some extra time, but the soil must now go through a restructuring process.

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Another concern is the viability of lawns after two years of long, hot, dry summers with limited or no irrigation. Many lawn grasses won’t be coming back. Their roots have died from being too dry for far too long. Weed seeds will germinate with a bit of moisture, but some turf grasses may be gone. Although it’s very late in the season, it is still possible to over-seed with some good perennial rye grass at the rate of five pounds per 1,000 square feet.

If you decide to reseed, it will make a big difference next spring. Use a level head rake to scratch up the surface area and work in a half-inch layer of good turf blend soil; then over-seed, along with some seed and sod nutrients. Adding in some white Dutch or micro clover seed will give a huge boost to your lawn. It will take about 14 days for the seed to germinate. When our normal rains eventually return, and the ground is soft, a good aeration, followed by an application of a quarter-inch layer of washed sand, will make a positive difference in your lawn area.

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Once we get back to our typical autumn rainfalls, planting the right tree in the right place, for shade, privacy, screening and for attracting wildlife, is still a great thing to do in fall and winter. Please remember, the planting hole must be dug about 1 1/2-to-two-times wider and deeper than the root ball to allow the tree’s roots to go deeper and find their own moisture. Always backfill with well-draining soil that also has some moisture-retaining ability. All of this will help ensure that your new tree will be far less reliant on you watering it.

If the current weather patterns continue, we will need to consider landscaping with more heat and drought tolerant trees and plants to help us better deal with our new climatic realities. In the meantime, please water not only the trees on your property, but also, where possible, those that are in severe stress in public spaces and on the medians near your home.

In a record drought situation, like this current one, with so many trees and plants at risk, we share a responsibility to help them survive. Let’s all make an effort to support the stressed trees and plants around us by keeping them watered.

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