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

Red Flag Warning


Courtesy of Mike Heath

Above: A field experiencing drying out - due to the time of year.

Just in case you haven't noticed, it's been HOT the last several days. And it's only going to get worse. This is the time of year that everything dries out. We feel really good when we have plenty of rain in the spring and early summer, but every year the weather follows a similar trend. Mid-July to the end of August, maybe early September, it just turns hot and dry. Miserable you might say. Then those spring rains...well, they just provided fuel for fires when the vegetation dries out. The more rain, the more vegetation. Don't get me wrong, I want the spring rains and we need them desperately. The pastures need it for grass for livestock to graze and for hay. The crops need the rain to grow and produce so the farmers can provide our food that's so abundant here in the United States. Without those spring rains we'd really be in a bind. Rain, a.k.a. moisture, is a precious commodity in this wonderful place we call home. When it stops, we feel it. In more ways than one.

I hope you've been heeding my advice over the past few months and kept your trees and lawns watered. That's the most critical action to providing a fire-resistant environment. Right now is the time when all of our plants are becoming stressed. Trees, vegetable gardens, flowers, pastures...everything is drying out. Even the streams and creeks are starting to dry up. They may not go completely dry, but we'll see less water moving downstream. Stress causes all kinds of issues with plants. Probably the most obvious is that they die. Water is life and if you want your plants to live, you have to give them water. Okay, I mentioned pastures earlier and I know it just isn't feasible to water the pastures. So let's leave them out of the discussion. But water is critical to everything. Any plant that has even a slight toxicity becomes even more poisonous as it's stressed. Less water (higher stress) increases the concentration of the toxins. Chokecherries, elderberry, rhubarb and many flowers that start toxic become even more so when they are stressed. With chokecherries and elderberry it isn't the berries that are toxic. It's the leaves and stems. But livestock, especially sheep and goats, will eat the stems and leaves if you give them a chance. If you value your animals, keep them away from these plants. If you haven't harvested your rhubarb, forget it. You're too late. The toxins have moved down into the stems by now. I missed mine again this year.

Lawns are crucial to fire-resistant property, especially outside of town. In town at least there's some protection from the drying effects of the wind and sun. There is often more shade and more structures to block the wind. Outside of town, sometimes the only thing between you and the wind is the pasture fence, maybe a power pole. In other words, those of us outside of town can expect to get the full brunt of the wind and sun. These are the lawns that will dry out the fastest. A dry lawn increases the fire hazard so it's crucial to keep your lawn as moist as possible. A moist lawn will slow down a grass fire long enough, hopefully, to give our great volunteer fire fighters time to respond. Anything you can do to keep a fire away from your home is a good thing. I suggest keeping your lawn well-watered at least 30 feet out from the house. That may be difficult with the weather as it is, but anything is a help. I know I'm up shortly after dawn every day to set up the sprinklers before the sun gets too hot and the wind picks up. Remember, you can lose up to 40 percent of the water from a sprinkler so anything you can do to reduce the loss is money not wasted. The idea is that a fire will burn up to the moist area then stop. This has happened time and again with prairie fires. A well-watered lawn could be the only thing between saving your home and losing everything.

Vegetable gardens will become stressed at this time of year, too. I know that the wheat growers don't want rain, or storms, right now for a variety of reasons, but for the rest of us, we need water. Since we probably won't get much rain, we have to supplement with irrigation water. Irrigation just means that you have to supply water to your vegetables from your well or other water supply. Remember that vegetables require consistent water and a lot of it. It isn't enough to water heavy once a week. You'll probably be watering at least every other day, if not every day. I have my garden on a cycle. I water half of it one day and the other half the next day, then continue the rotation. Yes, something is being watered every day. Some crops (vegetables) will require more water than others so you need an irrigation system that can isolate various crops to water as required.

Trees are another plant that we need to pay special attention to. They take a lot of water to grow and flourish. This year it's especially critical to keep your trees watered. Remember, next year could potentially be a severe drought year. Our trees need to go into that year healthy and strong. If you permit them to be overly stressed next year, you probably won't see the trouble right away. In fact, you probably call me a blustery old fool or something equally not nice. But by 2025 you could easily see your trees starting to die out. Trees will take four years or so to show the effects of stress. Trees are far too valuable to not take care of. Whether it's a windbreak, or you favorite apple tree, they need to be watered. But how much? Well, I could be snarky and say, "a lot", but I won't. Trees do take a lot of water, but there actually is a way to measure how much water a tree needs. Take a measurement of the diameter of the trunk 12 inches up from the ground. The tree will need ten gallons of water for every inch of diameter. For example, a tree with a three inch diameter trunk will need 30 gallons of water with each watering. New trees will need to be watered at least every other day for the first couple of years. Older trees may be able to go a week between waterings. Check your soil. Everyone will be a little different. If you can do it, a drip irrigation system will make watering trees a lot easier. Just check your emitters periodically to make sure they aren't clogged.

Watering is the most critical component of maintaining healthy plants, especially at this time of year, and the results are well worth the effort. You take care of your plants and they'll take care of you. If you have any questions, ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do.


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