Hot and Dry

by

Published: June 18,2007

The dry weather has landscapers in the state praying for rain even though the challenging conditions are bringing in new businesses from customers who are opting to have irrigation systems installed.

“It has been extremely dry up here,” said Linda Luke, co-owner of Luke Landscape Service, Greenville. “We haven’t had any rain in more than three weeks.

“It is one of the worst years we have seen as far as drought goes. We just pray for rain every day. We have been putting in a lot of irrigations systems this year for commercial and residential. A lot is because of the drought.”

The irrigation systems keep the yard green, but for people on city water, that can also mean higher water bills. However, the impact on residential and commercial customers is small compared to farmers.

“The farmers here in the Delta are having to do a lot of irrigation,” Luke said. “They are complaining about it being so dry. They are really worried about their crops. It isn’t only affecting us, but the cotton and corn farmers, as well.”

In Jackson, it is common for most commercial properties to have automatic irrigation systems installed.

“Places that don’t have irrigation, the drought is a problem for them,” said David Halle, owner of Halle Lands Cape Maintenance. “The only thing I suggest is water when they can. If they can’t, nature will just have to take its course. Until nature takes over and gives you the moisture you need, there is not a whole lot you can do.”

If you are going to spend money on professional landscaping, it makes sense to install an irrigation system to protect the investment.

“If you don’t put the forth extra effort to maintain properly under these conditions, you are making a big mistake,” Halle said. “It should be included in the up-front cost. We did a property last year that didn’t include an irrigation system and you can see the results. They are suffering from their bad decision.”

The drought shows the definite need for irrigation and smart water usage, and also using mulch correctly, said Bob Mercier, owner of Mercier Landscape Architect, Tupelo.

“When the mulch is too deep, it can be entirely detrimental for plants,” Mercier said. “Sometimes we see what looks like huge ant mounds with trees growing out of it. Mulch doesn’t have to be applied that deep. It needs to be evaluated before it is applied. You may need to add only an inch or a half-inch of mulch to maintain two or three inches of mulch. The biggest problem we see when mulch is piled up around the crown of a tree is it keeps part of the bark damp leading to problems with bacteria, fungal infections and insects.”

The drought is providing impetus for people to consider managing stormwater more efficiently. Mercier said people may want to consider returning to an old-fashioned cistern to capture rainwater to use to water the yard or even for other purposes like washing the car.

Recently, Landscape Architecture magazine featured several big projects in New York and Washington, D.C., where rainwater is captured from the roof and directed into a series of water features that add to the attractiveness of the landscape. The water is used to irrigate the landscape as well as operate water features on the property.

“Smart water management is what it comes down to, that and careful plant selection,” Mercier said. “You can also choose drought-tolerant plants. Many native plants are drought tolerant. But with the drought we are experiencing, even some of the native plants can’t withstand it.”

Another option for customers who have a pond or other body of water nearby is to use a pump to irrigate from surface water rather than purchase city water.

“That is what a lot of nurseries do,” Mercier said.

Maurice Malone owner, Maurice Malone Landscapes, Meridian, agrees that more drought tolerant plants and irrigation are the best options for dealing with the drought conditions. While the drought hasn’t been too bad yet in Meridian, he does recommend irrigation systems and in trusting the automatic timing set up by professionals.

“Typically, people try to control the system by themselves, and turn it on when they think it needs to be on,” Malone said. “What they really need to do is set the system the way the qualified irrigation contractor tells them it needs to be and leave it alone. People will turn off the irrigation system because they got a little shower. A rain shower here and there doesn’t help that much. It has to be a prolonged rain.”

For people without an irrigation system, he recommends turning sprinklers on full force for 45 minutes to an hour every third day. Move the sprinkler around the yard until there is full coverage. Typically early in the morning is the best time to water.

For drought-tolerant plants, he recommends hollies and junipers. And paying attention to planting the right time of year is important.

“It is best if you are going to do any major planting, start planting at the end of October and that will help the plants root out through the winter months,” Malone said. “Because the ground temperature is still warm, the trees will put out feeder roots to pick up more moisture and nutrients. Summer is not a good time to plant trees unless you have an irrigation system or time to water. But sometimes it is a necessity to plant in the summer if you have a new home and want to get something started.”

Drought or not, another factor to consider is the longevity of the species planted. A silver maple, for example, lives only 40 to 45 years and starts shedding limbs before it dies. But a red maple will live 100 to 125 years.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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