Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

Prepare for next year......this year


Courtesy of Mike Heath

Above: A ponderosa pine.

By now I think everyone can see it coming. Huge temperature swings early. A cool, but dry, spring. Hot temperatures and dry winds sweeping across Wyoming now. The western portion of the state is in a mild drought. We aren't. At least not yet. So far we're a small pocket that still has normal moisture. Or do we? I don't know about you but my pasture isn't coming out the way it normally does. By now I should have grass nearly two feet tall. It isn't even a foot. True, the goats are eating it, but they always do. What's going on?

In my opinion we are closing in on one of our worst fears here in the west. Severe drought. In the last several years, and especially in the last ten, I've become an avid weather watcher. Partly because of the industry I was in but also because of my gardening. Gardening causes a person to pay close attention to the weather and weather trends. For me, it also caused me to find a meteorologist that I feel I can trust and pay close attention to what he says. In fact, I get up early just to listen to Don Day's extensive take on the current weather and the future forecast. I know he's not perfect, but he has the best forecasts of anyone I've ever listened to in the past and certainly better than anyone around here.

Last year I wrote an article on a weather class that I'd taken from Don Day. One of the best experiences I've ever had. He called himself an "analog" meteorologist. In other words, he looks at past history since records were kept and follows the trends. One comment he made in the class has stuck with me. He said that it takes water in the world's oceans 30 years to completely cycle through and come back to it's original starting point. At the apex of that cycle (every 30 years) we experience a severe drought. That apex will happen in 2021. Whether or not we have a drought remains to be seen, but there are steps we can take now to be prepared just in case his forecast is correct.

Trees are our greatest concern here in Laramie County. With the exception of the trees on the bluffs in Pine Bluffs, nearly every other tree has been planted intentionally. They are so precious to us because it seems like it takes forever for them to grow. Trees here often take ten to fifteen years to reach any significant size. Most will grow a foot or less each year even in good years. As precious as they are, we need to be taking special care of them. That means putting forth effort now to get them ready for a possible drought next year or whenever it may happen. Not really a question of "if" rather a question of "when".

Trees are slow to show signs of stress. I had a maple tree that was damaged in the polar vortex of 2014 that finally had to be cut down last year. Five years after the damage. What makes that important information is that we know that we have to work with the trees now to keep them from stressing next year. It's actually a simple answer but it could be a massive undertaking to get ready. Water is going to be our key to getting through any drought. Plenty of water. In town, it's not too bad because you probably don't have a lot of trees. Outside of town, the number of trees on property grows dramatically, primarily due to windbreaks. I only have ten acres, but I have over 300 trees and shrubs to prepare. A drip irrigation system makes the task a lot easier. If you only have a few trees you can accomplish the same thing with a garden hose. Whichever method you use, start watering now. And water often and deep.

The first thing you need to know is how much water your drip system releases in an hour. Then you need to know how much water your trees need. To make this calculation, measure up twelve inches on the trunk of the tree and measure the diameter of the trunk. Your tree will need ten gallons of water every week for every inch of diameter. For example, if my tree trunk is eight inches in diameter at the twelve inch point up the trunk, the tree would need 80 gallons of water every week. That can be a lot of water. You can achieve this with your irrigation system and time it so it can drip in to the soil over time. Or you can let a garden hose run water to the tree, slowly, until you reach the required amount. I have two trees that I have to hand water.

If you water regularly with the required amount of water this year, your trees will enter 2021 in better health and be in much better condition to withstand a drought. That includes watering throughout the winter. Every chance you get, water your trees. They may not take in all the water you get to them, but they take a little at a time as the ice thaws and soaks in to the upper level roots. If you don't take care of them this year, they will enter 2021 in a weakened and stressed state to begin with. That makes them less likely to survive the drought. Of course, you may not see the effects until 2025 or so. With that time span, most people won't remember, or consider, that the trees were weakened and damaged by the drought. They'll attribute the dying trees to something else. And it actually could be. Stressed trees are more prone to insect infestations, too. So your trees may be killed by insects, but remember that they were probably invited by a stressed tree.

But trees aren't the only thing to be concerned with. Lawns and flowers will also be affected by a drought. The good thing about losing a lawn or a flower bed is that they don't take as long to restore as a tree. Usually you can get them back in a single season. However, if you can prevent the damage, why not? Irrigation systems are the best way to care for both. You can set it up this year and it'll last for several years.

In Cheyenne, in particular, a severe drought will come with severe water restrictions. If it comes down to either the trees or the lawn and flowers, I will handily choose to save the trees. I hope you will, too. Good planning and preparation now can make saving your plants next year a much safer bet. If you need help with planning how to save your plant in a drought ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do.


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