We’re not in a drought yet, but it’s close

Published 4:07 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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The past three weekends, I have had the pleasure of coaching for Leverage Lacrosse NC, a travel team out of Jacksonville, NC. We have been to Greenville, SC, Charleston, SC (my personal favorite), and finally Charlotte. This past weekend went really well, and our boys learned a lot.

As I reflect, coaching lacrosse may be more of a blessing than playing ever was. When you are playing, you have your individual play and you have team play but, coaching, I have had the opportunity to help so many across multiple teams and watch these players grow to do amazing things both on and off the field. If you haven’t, I highly recommend coaching your favorite sport, the rewards are beyond measure.

As we traversed through the Piedmont to get to Charlotte, I noticed the beautiful cool-season grasses were beginning to turn brown. I absolutely love cool season grass. It generally has such a deep green color and produces the most beautiful lines after mowing, allowing for exquisite designs that can be seen from some distance away. The diamonds and squares that can be constructed just by the direction of the mower have always amazed me.

You can tell the difference between cool and warm season grasses first by observing the mowing height. Cool-season grasses tend to flourish when mowed at a taller level, between 2.5 and four inches. Warm-season grasses tend to do the best when they are kept around one to 1.5 inches. Most of our playing fields are warm-season grasses in North Carolina because the lower height produces better play, and they recover quicker from damage.

Unfortunately, our climate here in Eastern North Carolina does not allow us to grow cool-season grasses. The dividing line is somewhere around the Highway 95 corridor near Wilson. Some of the areas we drove through were still lush and green, these are most likely under irrigation.

At home, I am noticing drought-type symptoms showing up in our warm-season grasses. There are a few signs to look for to know when your grass needs water.

It will tend to turn a bluish-green color when needing water. When it turns brown, the color indicates that the grass has gone dormant from not having enough water.

When you walk across the lawn, it may begin to be crunchy under your feet. As you walk across the lawn, turn around and look where you just walked, when warm-season grasses need irrigation, you will be able to see your footsteps in the grass. How much water does the grass really need? The grass will flourish with about an inch of water total per week during the growing season. This includes any precipitation that we may receive. Homeowners tend to over-irrigate their lawns leading to other issues. We are blessed in that we typically receive the right amount of precipitation all year.

That leads to my question of the week, are we in a drought? The short answer is no but we are dry. How does that make any sense? I went to the drought.com site to look at the National and North Carolina maps. This site will tell you if you are in a drought. While some of our state is experiencing dry conditions, we are still not in a drought.

Looking at historical data from the NC State Climate Office for Warren Field we can compare our current conditions to the averages. We are having the 10th driest year on record out of 91 years of data (year to date (YTD)).

We are also experiencing the warmest year on record (YTD)! In the last 30 days, we are in the seventh driest year on record for this period. When we are dry like we are experiencing right now, we need to water our lawns and drought susceptible trees such as Dogwoods (Cornus florida).

Drought can be tough on these plants especially when coupled with higher temperatures. While we haven’t had the highest max temperatures (fourth on record), we have had the warmest nighttime temperatures by a whopping 4°F above the average. This is tough on our plants because respiration during the day is higher but there isn’t any water, then at night, the recovery period isn’t there due to the warmer temperatures.

I expect to see some real damage to our plants soon. For some of our more susceptible trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials, this could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

What can you do? Water your plants early in the morning, especially those shallow-rooted trees and shrubs when we are dry. Make sure to have a good layer of much around them to lessen competition with weeds, conserve moisture, and moderate temperature. Place hardwood/bark mulch 2”-3” thick (pine straw 4”-6”) around the main trunk leaving an area between the trunk and the mulch around 2” wide. This allows gas exchange and helps the tree get oxygen to the roots.

Water infrequently but deeply to promote root growth, setting the tree or shrub up to be more resilient in times of drought. Remember, sandy soils require more water. When plants are drought-stressed, they are more susceptible to insect and disease pests.

If you are having an issue in your home garden or landscape, send your questions to Gene Fox, Consumer Horticulture Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, please email at Gene at gene_fox@ncsu.edu or call at (252)946-0111. You can also ask to speak to a Master Gardener! On Mondays and Wednesdays between 10:00 and 12:00, they man the Greenline to answer all your home horticulture questions. Check our Facebook page, Beaufort County Master Gardeners, for The Plant of the Week and Food Garden Friday! Until then, Happy Gardening!