To meteorologists, “drought” is measured in at least two ways. The first is a measure of ground water and surface water as measured by the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index. The second is a measure of rainfall over the past twelve months as indicated by the Palmer Drought Index. In either case, recent indices from July, 2011 through June, 2012, have shown the most extreme level of drought extending from Texas west to Nevada and California, north to Wyoming and into parts of the Midwest.
In homeowner and gardening terms: Boy, it’s dry!
Let’s look at how you can help your plants recover once a drought ends.
During the drought, plants basically shut down and now need to be nursed back to health. The pores on the surface of the plant closed to prevent moisture loss. The nutrients and water stored in the cells of the outermost leaves withdrew, causing wilt, curling, and shriveling. Finally, the chlorophyll withdrew so it could be used to sustain the “heart” of the plant, which is why it turned yellow, became turgid and brittle. The plant opted to jettison those leaves and limbs to guarantee its ultimate survival.
A similar process took place below the soil line. The plant at first attempted to grow additional roots, especially tap roots, but eventually the auxiliary root systems and the root hairs dried, withered and eventually died.
When moisture returns, baby the plants at first, and bring them along slowly. Our first instinct is to go outside and pour on the nitrogen, which, after a drought is absolutely the wrong thing to do. The plant cannot process the nitrogen without the leaf surface, limb structure and root hairs to take it in. Also, it can’t handle the added stress of being forced to grow with a limited root mass to support the additional growth.
Rather than using a high N (nitrogen)* fertilizer, use a high P & K (phosphorous and potassium)* plant food to start. This will help build the root system so it can make use of the other nutrients and draw in the moisture needed to process the nitrogen. Monty’s Root and Bloom 2-15-15, a liquid plant food, is an excellent option.
Once you start to see vitality returning to the landscape, step up to Monty’s Growth Formula 8-16-8. By this time the plants can support the robust growth that Monty’s will provide.
Remember the soil. The drought has taken its toll on the soil as well. All of the microscopic flora and fauna — including earthworms and arthropods — have likely died or moved on and need to be encouraged to return. Soils most likely have collapsed during the drought, making moisture management a challenge and additional root growth almost impossible in the tight, compacted environment. Using Monty’s Liquid Carbon Organic Soil Conditioner will aid recovery. While it is always a good practice to condition soils at least annually to maintain peak efficiency, reduce compaction and boost organic matter, in drought years it may be critical.*Plant foods and fertilizers are labeled according to the percentage of each of these three primary nutrients in the formulation:
N (nitrogen), P (phosphate) and K (potassium, or potash). For example, plant food labeled “2-15-15” contains 2% nitrogen, 15% phosphorous, and 15% potassium.