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Drought provides plenty of challenges for local landscapers

Companies pouring water on plants — and their people

JACKSON — Even though landscape businesses in the metro area are finding various ways to meet the challenges of a lack of rain and scorching temperatures, the

results are the same: less green at the bottom line.

“We’re putting off new plantings until the weather gets cooler and wetter because right now, it’s almost impossible to keep new things alive,” said Jim Jackson,

landscape architect at Barnes Brothers Nursery & Garden Center in Jackson.

Delaying new plantings “kills the cash flow,” he said.

“I’m not saying it’s a great business decision but it’s a decision that has to be made for customers,” Jackson said. “Normally, you can plant this time of year. But with

the weather we’ve had, there’s not a way to adequately maintain it. The problem is that work is stacking up, but we’ll get to it.”

Spence Aldridge, owner of Solid Ground Landscaping Inc. in Brandon, which has lawn service contracts that include Northpark Mall in Ridgeland and Metrocenter in

Jackson, said the water supply makes the difference: irrigated spots look great while non-irrigated areas don’t.

“It’s a challenge to keep grass growing with no water,” Aldridge said. “It’s a no-win situation. We have a big tank of water that we use to spray islands and trees that

have really suffered this summer from a lack of water, but even that is not enough.”

Even if the grass doesn’t seem to grow, landscape companies continue to cut it, Aldridge said.

“There’s still a small amount of growth, even if it’s just a few blades of grass,” he said. “Managers of commercial properties, like Northpark Mall, want it to look

manicured at all times. Sometimes it seems like we’re only stirring dust, but it makes a difference.”

As an act of self-preservation, trees are shedding leaves earlier this year, Aldridge said.

“The more leaves they have, the more water and nutrients they need,” he said. “More trees around town are dropping their leaves so they won’t have to support the

greenness.”

Dogwoods and crepe myrtles seem to be suffering the most, said Karen Martinson McKie, owner of Green Oak Nursery in Jackson.

“Some are dead, others are dying if they don’t get water soon,” she said. “If we have a bad winter, we’ll see even more damage in the spring. If the winter comes

hard, the ones that aren’t dead now will keel over.”

Even though native plant material is faring better, even well established shrubs are suffering, Jackson said.

“A classic example is at the entrance of Hampton House on County Line Road. Some George Tabor azaleas are dead, and they are an incredibly hardy shrub that

have been irrigated regularly and have been in the ground for at least 15 years,” he said. “The plants are transpiring the water faster than the roots can take it up.”

The loss of shrubs and color plants has created an unsightly scene: lots of holes in the ground, McKie said.

“It’s difficult to fill those holes right now because it’s hard to water them enough right after they’re planted,” she said. “It’s probably better to wait until it cools off and

there’s more rain.”

At Northpark Mall in Ridgeland, where Green Oak Nursery provides bedding plants, flowerbeds have flourished with extra timed waterings.

“We upped their sprinkler timing to accommodate for the heat and drought, and they look great right now,” McKie said.

“Zinnias planted right in the middle of that heat drought are unbelievably gorgeous, sunflowers are blooming good, but the irrigation was good,” she said. “We kept on

top of it and so did Northpark personnel. It will take us through time to plant pansies. We had to hold off on planting mums, only because they were green and not

opened up yet, but they’re thirsty plants and watering will have to be upped even more when they’re planted this week.”

Harsh weather conditions are taking a toll on ground cover, too, said Jackson.

“If you’re seeding grass and can keep it down and wet enough, it’ll come up, especially with the ground temperature as warm as it is,” he said.

Adding winter conditioner, which acts like antifreeze, to grass and shrubs now will help them survive the stress and will strengthen them over the winter, McKie said.

Scorching temperatures make it difficult for manual laborers to endure long hours outdoors, Jackson said.

“We’re real careful about working people in the heat,” he said. “We have 36 employees, and we’ve been trying to start earlier in the morning and knock off around

noon, before the hot part of the day.”

Managers at Green Oak Nursery keeps coolers filled with water at all times, McKie said.

“The sweat is pretty tough, depleting energy and liquids,” she said. “We don’t do as much landscaping as other companies. We do mostly interiorscaping and design,

so the heat doesn’t affect us like it does others.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewriterdesk.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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