Trees need a good soaking to stay alive in this heat

06/28/2012 5:00 AM

10/15/2012 4:08 PM

The watering rule-of-thumb went hitch-hiking this week.

The general rule is to water shrubs and trees and lawns and gardens an inch of water a week. But the heat is causing that inch of water to evaporate in three days’ time, extension agent Rebecca McMahon tweeted Monday.

So I grabbed my trusty (?) moisture meter, deciding I’d better not take any moisture in the soil for granted. I began a march around the yard, looking like I was taking the soil’s temperature. Where the meter met resistance under tree or shrub, it was time to put down a hose on trickle for as long as the ground would take in the water. And then maybe put on some more.

A screwdriver or wooden dowel or metal rod would have told me the same, and probably better, but I like my “official” moisture meter for some odd reason.

In pots, the moisture meter potentially gives more information. A needle on the meter registers how wet or dry the potting mix is. I’ve read that salts in the soil can mess with the accuracy, and I’ve dropped the thing more than a few times, but it keeps me from getting my hands dirty digging in the soil just as I’m running off to work.

I’m trying to love the feeling of being baked, even as I look for any and every shred of shade to park under as I run around town.

Seriously, this town — and especially its parking lots — needs more trees. But we better keep the ones we have alive to begin with.

We’re seeing the results of people not watering trees last year, extension agent Bob Neier says. The Extension Service is reporting many examples of trees that are declining and that have dead branches or that are completely dead from the heat of last summer. Trees should get a good soaking every week or two in this heat when there’s no significant rainfall, he advises.

“Trees that provide shade and cooling for your home and business can be lost by not giving them adequate water,” Neier says. These are the trees over our parking spaces, people!

“Lay the hose out for a slow soak of the root system or set a sprinkler out for several hours in the early morning before the wind comes up.”

It would be good to revisit the words of Ward Upham of K-State now:

“We may see more damage as we transition into summer weather. Plants may wither seemingly overnight. These trees may have died earlier but had enough food reserves to put out leaves and even to grow for a period of time. When the food reserves become depleted, the plants die suddenly. Another possibility is that the root system was damaged last summer and winter from drought. The tree has enough roots to keep up with moisture demands now but may collapse when the weather turns hot and moisture demands rise.”

You probably would like to be sure something is dead before giving up on it.

“Before any tree is cut down, check the twigs,” Upham says. “Dead trees will have brittle, dry stems that snap. Live stems may break, but they won’t be dry. If the tree is still alive, give it time to put out a new set of leaves.”

Pond, garden tours

Can you imagine being one of the people on the pond tour or on the Marion garden tour next weekend? They have to not only keep their plants alive — the bare minimum that most of us are after right now — but prepare their gardens to look their best for visitors.

A pond tour always can sell you on ponds because no matter how hot it is, looking at water gardens tends to even out your temperature. And they tend to be in the shade. But this week, I think you actually had to be in the pond to cool off.

If the Kansas Pond Society’s tour of water gardens did nothing more than remind me of the charms of the Eastborough Pond, it would be worth the $10 map/ticket.

But the admission price — which applies to a carload of people — is even more of a bargain than that. Botanica is one of the stops on the tour, and you can use the ticket both days, so the potential for savings is great.

Thirteen other stops that feature ponds are on the tour — nine private residences, three commercial sites, and, for the first time, two public properties: the Eastborough pond and the several ponds in front of WaterWalk Place downtown.

The residences are in Wichita, Goddard, Mulvane and Belle Plaine. Some have been on the pond tour before, but all of them have new features since the last time they appeared, I’m told. The garden in Mulvane will be open until 9:30 p.m. July 7 to show off its lighting.

Tickets are available at Hong’s Landscape & Nursery, Hillside Nursery, Dutch’s Greenhouse, Scenic Landscapes, Brady Nursery, Johnson’s Garden Centers, Botanica and Tree Top Nursery in Wichita; Atwoods in Andover; and Easton Sod Farm and Tails and Scales in Derby.

The tour in Marion — the annual Flowers in the Flint Hills Garden Tour — will be one day only, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 7. It also will include gardens with ponds — and two stops on a really huge pond: Marion County Lake. The gardens will feature limestone and countryside, containers and collections, history and quiet. The tour costs $5 a person, and you can get a ticket at the city’s library behind the county courthouse grounds downtown.

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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