AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Autumn brought a wave of aridity to Alabama with its pleasant temperatures. In the new climate, homeowners around the state are seeing their grass turn brown and plants weaken due to insufficient natural moisture. To help you at home, a regional agent from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System explains the keys to conquering a dry domain.
Define a drought
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), a drought is generally defined as a lack of precipitation over an extended period of time, resulting in water scarcity. A NIDIS tool – US Drought Monitor (USDM) – contains a national map that shows the severity of drought conditions.
This monitor is a joint database of the National Drought Mitigation Center, USDA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Every Thursday, the tool publishes the latest data across the country and can break down data by region as well as counties.
Severity levels (judged by the NIDIS) range from abnormal dryness (D0) to exceptional dryness (D4) on the monitor scale. The latest Alabama report shows that about 64% of Alabama is considered abnormally dry and 13.7% is under moderate drought.
Flash Drought Alabama Extension Urban Regional Agent Hayes Jackson said Alabama is currently in what he considers a flash drought.
“A flash drought is what I call a period of abrupt change in rainfall for a significant duration,” Jackson said. “These times are tough on grass and plants, so getting enough water around the house is more important than ever.”
A lack of moisture will make plants more susceptible to disease. Additionally, while cool, windy weather may feel comfortable, the wind will exacerbate the dryness of a climate. Watering plants on a windy day should warrant the application of more H2O than normal, as moving air evaporates water faster.
Jackson adds that unfortunately, in flash droughts, the main sources of rain are tropical systems. When these storms arrive, they tend to hit drier, more brittle plants and trees, which can be easily disturbed by strong winds.
Remedies for Dry Conditions If daily watering isn’t a feasible option, watering deeper, less often can be a solution. This method will ensure that the soil near the roots will get enough moisture to sustain a healthy plant or grass for a longer period of time until the next watering opportunity.
Watering in the morning is best for plants so they have a moisture base to withstand sun exposure and windy conditions. In the dry season, do not consider that a sprinkling of water is sufficient. Instead, carefully apply moisture to the soil so that stressed plants constantly have healthy resources before overwintering later in the year. Any species potted or planted within the last two years will especially need more water than usual to establish a healthy root system.
“Even though it’s usually a dry season, mid-autumn is the best time to plant species for spring,” Jackson said. “By planting them before the frosts arrive, the plant will develop temperature tolerance as well as a stronger root system in the spring. Be sure to wait until the November rains arrive and the soil moisture increases .
When All Else Fails When it seems like it’s impossible to keep up with mother nature, there are last-minute practices that can help in times of drought.
Using mulch in flower beds will help with wind deflection and water retention. Jackson said a simple rule is to keep a close eye on your plants every day. They will tell you when they are thirsty. Planting drought-tolerant species, such as hedgerow and western redcedar (i.e. Juniperus virginiana), will allow for less maintenance.
“If you plan to apply herbicides such as glyphosate in dry conditions, increase the uptake potential of unwanted species by watering them down a day before application,” Jackson said. “A healthy weed dies faster.”
Irrigation systems save a lot of time and are convenient for homeowners. Although expensive, these water distribution networks make watering a snap. It is important that people do not install these systems in a routine and forget about them. Every home’s humidity needs are different due to topography and sun exposure. Ensure your irrigation dynamically applies water levels throughout the seasons by sampling soil in multiple locations within hours of a cycle.
Dust in the Wind It’s the same old song in Alabama. A single drop of water will not do in a dry area. Stay tuned for weekly USDM updates and keep a close eye on your landscape for lack of moisture. For more information and resources on proper watering around the house, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.