Drought: A Cautionary Tale

It is fall and we are in a drought. While it may not seem so because the weather has cooled off, our plants need water now more than ever. Stressed trees are turning colors earlier than normal. If you notice that your plants have brown or wilted leaves, early leaf drop or stem dieback, your plant is calling for help. When stressed, plants are more susceptible to pests and disease.

 

We are used to seeing this in the high heat of summer, but drought can happen any time of the year. A deciduous (drops leaves for winter) plant can mitigate the damage because it will have no leaves to lose water through and essentially go dormant. It may also drop its leaves prematurely in defense during a drought. This winter will be especially harsh to our broadleaf evergreens due to moisture loss through their leaves. Conifers and broadleaf evergreens will drop some needles and leaves every year routinely, but substantial leaf drop means something may be seriously wrong.

An anti-desiccant spray can help. However, irrigating before the ground freezes will give them a much better chance to survive a dry fall and winter. A leaf with a bigger surface area will transpire faster than a leaf with a smaller surface area; therefore, broadleaf evergreens are more at risk. Even conifers such as pine, spruce and fir will lose water through their needles. If the plant loses too much moisture through its leaves, it can’t stay healthy, and a unhealthy plant will fail. A plant will keep expelling water unless something is in place to stop it whether by the plant shutting the stomata by itself or with our help. An anti-desiccant (anti-transpirant) application can help protect the leaves by reducing the stomata openings. This application will also help protect the leaves from wind burn (see above right). The root system will be compromised if there is not enough water in the soil and if the soil is too dry it can erode away. If the roots are damaged severely, the plant could die. Protect your landscape investment!

From a recent interview with Long Island Pulse magazine, Tom Rodler, our president, says, “A good rule of thumb is to give a new plant about one inch of water per week throughout the fall.” We are down 5 inches from our normal rainfall since June. You must be extra diligent, especially with new planting, to ensure your plants survival through the fall and winter.

Avoid stressing the plants even more during drought by refraining from pruning and transplanting. Mulch can help prevent water loss by evaporation from the soil around a plant, but if the soil is dry to begin with it is a futile gesture. Once the ground is frozen a plant can’t take up any more water so protecting it now is important. DO NOT water at lower temperatures. Heaving will lift and damage root systems if not properly mulched, especially as the ground freezes and thaws throughout winter. We offer a winter mulch application to protect your plants against heaving damage, but don’t apply it too late or clean it up too early. Some animals stuff themselves before hibernating in the winter and we need to prep our plants in a similar manner. A dry, windy winter could be the last nail in the coffin.

Long Island PULSE Magazine Article – Fall Takes Root

Fall Takes Root

Cool-weather gardening with landscape designer Thomas Rodler

Author: Ruth Thomas | Published: Friday, September 20, 2013 | Long Island PULSE Magazine

Spring has earned its reputation as the time to plant, but fall is also a good time to add an eye-catching mix of cool-weather plants to any landscape. Flower and shrub species that thrive in warm days and cooler nights can take root now and establish a full year of growth to come. Thomas Rodler, president of Goldberg & Rodler, offers a few pointers for establishing an autumn garden.

Long Island Pulse: What can be planted now for the biggest pop of color in the fall?
Thomas Rodler:
Ornamental cabbages and kale are popular and I haven’t had a deer issue with them. Montauk daisies are beautiful white perennial flowers that last until frost while sedums have interesting pink to dark purple foliage and will flower in the fall. Bugbane has a tall white plume flower and tolerates shade. Fall flowering asters come in pink, blue or white. Purple to pink Joe-Pye weed flowers until frost and Russian sage has spikes of blue flower that last into fall… Some fall flowering trees are sourwood (white flowers), witch hazel (yellow to gold flowers) and the autumn flowering cherry tree, which gives brilliant pinkish-white color. The Japanese dogwood tree has a fruit center that becomes a very pronounced pinkish color in the fall. Planting in the fall, when irrigation is often reduced, sometimes requires supplemental watering to avoid stressing the plant before winter. A good rule of thumb is to give a new plant about one inch of water per week throughout the fall.

LIP: What shrubs grow in quickly to add privacy shortly after planting?
TR:
For a shady property, plant skip laurel or holly shrubs. By the water, try more native plants like bayberry shrubs, eastern red cedars and junipers that fill in nicely. For a sunny location, plant evergreens such as the dark green ‘Green giant’ western red cedar (arborvitae), the bluish-green white pine, with bluish-green needles and the silvery-blue Colorado blue spruce for their height and because they provide a natural-looking border. In the wintertime if your yard has a lot of wind I recommend applying an anti-transpirant or anti-desiccant spray to newly planted evergreens to protect them from drying out and burning.

LIP: What are some specimen tree options and where should they be planted in the front yard?
TR:
Be very selective where you place a specimen tree as it is just an accent. Put it in a prominent spot but treat it like a unique piece of sculpture. The weeping white pine noted for its shape grows 8 to 10 feet tall and weeps down with its soft bluish-green foliage. The bloodgood Japanese maple has dark red foliage that is very contrasting. The weeping Norway spruce has lush dense foliage. Chances are the tree will be shaped at the nursery you buy from, but when it comes time to prune next year, do it between the end of August and the end of November, so the wound has time to heal before winter.

Fall Takes Root | Long Island Pulse Magazine – Covering Long’s Island lifestyles, arts, fashion, business, nightlife and entertainment