Farm Talk

Crops

December 19, 2012

Give your trees a break from drought

Parsons, Kansas — With water as the single most important resource for tree survival and growth, the Kansas drought conditions the past couple years have been less than favorable for both young and mature trees throughout the state.

“More than 80 percent of variation in tree growth is related to water supply,” said Bob Atchison with the Kansas Forest Service.

He said the most common signs of drought last summer appeared in foliage and included leaf drop, curling, wilting, discoloration and dead branches. Symptoms usually appear first in the top center portion of canopies, making it difficult to identify drought stress in tall, more mature trees.

Atchison recommended several practices to limit tree damage during drought, even in the winter months.

“Even though we have entered the winter season, it is still helpful to apply water when weather allows and the soil can absorb moisture,” he said.

While newly planted trees should be watered regularly for the first three years, established, mature trees should be watered every two to four weeks by soaking the top 12 inches of soil under the tree’s canopy. Atchison recommended using a soaker hose, drip irrigation or slow drip bucket to spread water over the entire root area. As a general rule, he recommended two gallons of water be applied for every one inch of tree diameter.

He also warned against over watering. “Too much water can kill a tree by eliminating the air from the soil and suffocating the roots,” he said. “The soil should not stay saturated, but have time to dry out between waterings.”

Atchison said pruning and fertilizing often have negative effects during drought as well. Both cause the tree to expend energy that could otherwise be spent on growth.

For other questions about tree care, contact the Kansas Forest Service at 785-532-3300 or visit www.KansasForests.org. £

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