Drought Calls for Special Measures

The rainy season in southern Florida is the time of year when precipitation comes not from cold fronts passing through the area, but from the combination of heat and moist air. It is generally considered to span the period between May 20 and mid-October, a time when dew points are consistently above 70°, an indicator of high humidity. After April’s rainfall exceeded the norm, locals might have expected an early start to the 2015 rainy season. But precipitation in May was less than half of normal, and we are now more than a month late for the true start of the wet season. Over many decades June has been the rainiest month in both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale — more recently, September, by a small margin, has become Miami’s rainiest month — but the drought has gotten a tighter grip during this unusual June. While homeowners might appreciate not having to mow the lawn as frequently, the parched conditions pose potentially serious problems in the landscape, requiring special care.

Many of the plants which we have in the ground are native to either tropical rain forests or regions which experience high seasonal rainfall. Accordingly, they not only are accustomed to receiving ample moisture during the hottest time of the year, but they may even have evolved to rely on a relatively small root system to capture soil moisture. As a result, when a drought develops, those plants are prone to suffering greatly. It is important for you to make sure that your inground landscaping is sufficiently hydrated. Frequent brief irrigation is not recommended. Instead, you should provide a thorough soaking. If you aren’t already mulching trees and shrubs, you should do so, making sure to leave an open area around the base of the plants to discourage insects from chewing on stems. The mulch will act to keep moisture in the ground, an especially good benefit on breezy days any time of year, but particularly during the winter. (Mulch also improves the soil as it breaks down, another compelling reason to use it as part of your maintenance practices.)

If you keep plants in containers, you will need to be even more vigilant. Good soil mixes are fast-draining in order to discourage disease, but during periods of drought, soil porosity may create a threat. Windy days can desiccate containerized rootballs within mere hours. Until we begin to receive consistent rainfall, you may need to water some of your containerized material on a daily basis.

Special care also needs to be taken when fertilizing. First, since drought-stricken plants may have stopped growing actively, you might be well-served to reduce the amount of fertilizer you apply, lest you overwhelm the plant. Second, be sure to irrigate the plant both before and after applying fertilizer in order to minimize the risk of burning roots or leaves. This recommendation holds even when recent weather conditions have been normal.

Barring the drought of the century, at some time this summer we’ll experience a lot of rain in a short period; that’s the tradition in our area. But until that happens, take some extra steps to give Mother Nature a hand.

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