Trees at risk from prolonged drought

Trees in Pratt and Pratt County are showing the effects of prolonged drought. A lot of trees need moisture soon or some of them will die.

Normally, when a probe is used to measure subsoil moisture, the ideal depth is from 12 inches to 15 inches. Recent tests are lucky to get even three inches down, said Mark Ploger, Pratt County Extension agent.

"A lot of trees are needing a drink," Ploger said.

The Extension office has been getting calls from concerned property owners that their trees are looking rough.

Even though the trees are dormant, tree owners need to drag hose and put some water down.

The trick is making sure the hoses are put out when the temperature is above freezing and then emptied and put away before the temperature gets below freezing, Ploger said.

Hoses need to be removed from the spigots as well to prevent the hose and spigot freezing together.

When watering, make sure the water comes out of the hose about a third of a full stream or about the width of a pencil. The hose has to be moved often this way but it prevents puddling that keeps water from soaking into the ground.

The base of the tree should be watered from the trunk out to the edge of the drip line of the tree. The drip line is the area furthest from the trunk to where water drips off the tree onto the ground when it rains.

Without the additional water, some land and homeowners will have dead trees in the spring. Watering will help ease the situation but for some trees the drought will cause them to die.

Trees started to show drought effects earlier this year and some land and homeowners started watering then. The trees on that property are doing well now.

Besides keeping trees alive, watering the trees helps keep them healthy. Insects tend to attack trees that are not in good health.

Just like predators that seek out the weak animals in a heard, insects will attack trees that are don't have enough water and are not in good health.

The impact of the drought has caught some tree owners by surprise. Many people assume that trees have a lot of roots that go deep into the ground.

But about 80 percent of all tree roots only reach down the first two feet of soil. With two years of drought, many areas in Kansas don't have very little subsoil moisture for the roots in those two feet.

Besides trees in town, farmers and ranchers are seeing trees in distress on farmsteads and in shelterbelts.

"Windbreaks on farms are looking kind of sick right now," Ploger said.

Some farmers are removing some of the trees in shelterbelts to save the other trees. That practice reduces the effectiveness of the shelterbelt as a windbreak but it does help reduce the amount of water the trees are taking out of the ground.

Even though it is several months until spring, keeping trees watered will help them come through winter in better shape and help reduce tree death in 2013.