Hot summer gives insight to hardy Oklahoma plants

There is just no sugar coating it. This is a hard, challenging summer to be gardening in Oklahoma.

It does give us a chance to observe what plant material really holds up and performs in the heat and some do. Most of our plant materials from vegetables to trees are showing stress and are having an adverse reaction to our persistent, grinding and punishing heat. These conditions make the importance of water all too obvious. The deeper a plant is rooted into the earth, the better it can fend for itself as it can draw moisture from deeper underground that does not dry out as quickly or as completely as moisture near the soil surface. That is why most trees and shrubs are more tolerant and take longer to show stress than vegetables, flowering annuals or newly planted crops that are not rooted as deep in the soil.

These annuals and newly planted trees or shrubs can show extreme stress at missing regular watering for just a day or a few days depending on your soil and the type of plant. The drought has persisted for so long and is so severe that we are now seeing serious stress on even mature, long established trees and shrubs that are not benefitting from human intervention and supplemental watering. Many trees are dropping significant quantities of leaves to try to get in balance with the water they can access so that they can survive this “natural oven” of heat and hot dry winds.

Other trees, shrubs and plant materials are displaying lots of yellow leaves or dullish gray foliage as they turn down their photosynthesis and respond to the lack of water, Many of these trees and shrubs were already stressed and fighting to regain their energy after a very tough winter where parts of the state got down to -40° and all of us had unusually hard freezes. They are now getting serious heat stress before they have fully recovered from the rough winter. Make sure you are walking your yard, hopefully with a water hose in hand, to look at your trees, shrubs and flowers. Make sure you are giving our living friends the water they require.

Some folks have decided to throw in the towel and quit watering their vegetables or select flowerbeds just as cotton or corn farmers have been forced to walk away from crops that are too stressed to save. Those are annual crops and you can start again this fall or next spring after we are blessed with new rains. Please don’t give up on your trees, shrubs and long term plantings. A little attention now will save many years of growth, investment and allow a future for these “foundation” plantings.

We often hear the weathermen comparing this heat and this drought to the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. There is no comparison horticulturally as we benefit from many more trees and shrubs, that break the winds, provide cooling and create microclimates. Many of those were planted in response to the Dust Bowl through conservation programs and more recently in beautification efforts and by individual landowners. The big difference is water distribution. Thanks to city water departments and rural water districts and thousands more wells we now have water if we are willing to invest the money and time to apply it. Horticulturally that option puts us light years ahead of the Dust Bowl, if we will pick up the water hose, spread the mulch and install the drip lines.

Pray for rain. We are now one day closer to a cool, life supporting rain!

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