Archive for Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Wishing we were waterlogged

July 24, 2002

This week the Tonganoxie City Council voted to prohibit outdoor watering. The move was taken because of the continued drop in the city's wells and the recent lack of rainfall.

As citizens and area residents, we can only hope the area will soon receive rain.

Mary Knapp, state climatologist, said northeastern Kansas, which includes Tonganoxie, is approaching a moderate drought level. In June, Tonganoxie received 1.28 inches of rainfall, compared to a normal of 4.73 inches. And so far in July we've received 0.79 of an inch, compared to a normal July rainfall of 4.08 inches.

Tonganoxie, Knapp said, needs from six to nine inches of rainfall to get back to normal. But, she said, there doesn't appear to be rain in our immediate future.

The lack of rainfall and the recent temperatures in the high 90s have been hard on outdoor plants. And now with an outdoor watering ban, residents will be wondering what can be done to protect their plants.

Among the most delicate and the most tolerant when it comes to rain deprivation are trees. The older trees and shrubs may shed leaves early but should perk up again in the spring.

But trees planted this year likely won't survive an extended drought with no additional watering, said Charles Barden, K-State research and extension forester.

"The worst effects will be on the new trees," Barden said. "Anything planted this spring really needs water during a dry period like this to get through the first summer."

New trees could survive on as little as 10 gallons a week if the water is applied slowly so that it will saturate the soil and not run off.

Barden suggested poking a small hole in the bottom of a five-gallon bucket, filling it with water and letting the water seep out.

Chuck Marr, extension horticulturist, said household water could be recycled to water trees and plants. Tonganoxie residents might want to consider keeping a bucket in the shower and at the kitchen sink for recycling, as Marr does at his home in Manhattan.

"In the course of taking a shower I generate about three gallons of water," Marr said. "I keep a bucket in the shower to collect the water and take it out and sprinkle it. It keeps a small flower bed going quite nicely."

Marr said it's also possible, but more complicated, to recycle water from a washing machine.

Over time, he said, the chemicals in used household water could damage plants, but for a short duration this shouldn't be a problem.

Barden and Marr both suggested mulching soil around trees, vegetables and flowers.

"But you should not do that if the soil is very dry because then if we do get a half-inch thunderstorm the mulch may cause the water to run off," Barden said.

He suggested if soil is currently dry, to wait to mulch immediately after a rain.

Mulching material can be made from purchased products, hay or straw, grass clippings or even newspapers, he added.

And, in the case of continued drought, Marr said, look to the melons and cucumbers to do just fine because they have deep root systems. Tomatoes and peppers will also do reasonably well, he added.

And as for Knapp, she continues to keep an eye on the weather.

There is a 20 percent chance of rain this weekend, she said, but cautioned that means there's an 80 percent chance it won't rain.

She's looking at future months for our rainfall salvation.

"The encouraging thing is the El Nino is developing in the Pacific," Knapp said. "That generally means a milder and wetter than normal winter in Kansas and the wetter-than-normal would be very welcome."

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