For Release July 17, 2001

Stress Is Showing Up Everywhere This Year

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

For some reason, it seems altogether fitting and proper that the week before the County Fair Iím talking about stress! But the stress that Iím talking about has nothing to do with myself or the County Fair. Iím talking about your plants. That includes your lawn, your trees, your ornamental landscape plants and your garden. They are all stressing right now because of the weather the past twelve months.

We had some pretty rough weather from July on through the winter. Spring treated us pretty well, but now July is starting to get nasty. In spite of the nice spring, many of our trees are already stressed trying to recover from last year. We still have a lot of trees that are at risk if we have even a partial repeat of last August and September. Sadly, for some trees, it may be too late even if we do everything possible.

Lawns are stressing a little bit now, but I honestly canít get too concerned about them. A lawn can recover, or be replaced, in a year or two. A tree can take a lifetime to be replaced. With lawns you just need to remember a few things. Mow high and mow regularly. If you water you lawn, do so just a couple times a week and be sure to water deeply to encourage deep root penetration. If you prefer not to water your lawn, and it doesnít rain, give it a deep soaking every three or four weeks to keep the crowns from drying out and dying.

Trees, and to some extent shrubs, are different. And deciduous trees and evergreen trees act different from each other as well. We have long known that a stressed plant is more likely to develop disease or insect problems than a non-stressed plant. Think of yourself. When youíre burning the candle at both ends and trying to do it all, thatís when you come down with a cold. Plants are the same way. We may be seeing it already this year. While there arenít as many bagworms this year, we are having a big problem with mites. Whether or not this is related to plant stress or weather, or both, is hard to tell.

Mites started early and they arenít going away. The problem with mites is that they can feed on almost anything. Iíve seen them on no less than 15 species of trees and shrubs already this year. Since a mite problem can develop very quickly, preventative sprays are a waste of time. Keep an eye on your trees and shrubs and if a mite problem develops, then spray. Look for leaves that start to go off color and have a stippled look. The mites are very small and are on the undersides of leaves, oft times associated with fine webbing.

I have also seen an increase in wood borer problems in species that donít normally have borers. Iíve had a half dozen hackberry samples brought in that were loaded with borers. Unfortunately, once borers are into a tree, there is little that can be done. Is this associated with stress? Maybe, but itís hard to know for sure.

The one thing that you can do is to try not to put your plants under any more stress than they already are. Subsoil moisture has not been recharged yet, so many plants have no moisture reserve to fall back on. In the absence of appreciable rain (more than one inch), give trees, even mature trees, a slow soaking every three to four weeks. Put the hose out under the tree and let it run at a slow trickle for a day or two, moving as needed if runoff or puddling occurs. Just because you are watering your lawn, do not assume that this moisture is getting down to the tree roots. What the rest of the summer will bring us is anybodyís guess. If the weather takes a turn for the wetter, great. But donít get caught waiting for that to happen as your trees slowly stress out!


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