Drought conditions worsened across most of Georgia during May. With well-below-normal rain and temperatures routinely in the 90s, soils continued to dry. The southern half of the state is being hit the hardest. With little widespread rain and soaring temperatures over the next several days, conditions are expected to only get drier. Counties south of Harris, Talbot, Upson, Monroe, Jones, Baldwin, Washington, Glascock, Jefferson and Burke, inclusive, are now classified as being in extreme drought. Since Oct. 1, or what is considered the first of the water year, these counties have received 70 percent or less of normal rain. Over the past 6 months, Columbus has received 63 percent of normal rain. Macon has received 60 percent of normal rain.Soil moisture conditions in the southern half of the state are generally at the fifth percentile. At the fifth percentile, the soils at the end of May are wetter 95 out of 100 years. Many farmers have not completed spring planting because the soils are too dry. Farmers are irrigating their crops just to get small plants to properly emerge, a very expensive alternative to rain.Stream flows across the coastal plain region are very low for the end of May. Almost all streams are currently at or below the tenth percentile. At the tenth percentile, the streams would have more water in them 90 out of 100 years. Daily record-low flows are occurring on Spring Creek near Iron City, Pachitla Creek near Edison, Muckalee Creek near Leesburg, Withlacoochee River near Quitman, Alapaha River near Alapaha and the Ocmulgee River near Lumber City. These low flows in the coastal plain are especially noteworthy since they are lower than they were in late May 2007, which was during Georgia’s last major drought. Counties classified as being in severe drought are Heard, Troup, Meriwether, Pike, Spalding, Lamar, Butts, Jasper, Putnam, Hancock, Warren, McDuffie, Richmond, Columbia and Lincoln. Soil moisture in these counties is approaching the tenth percentile. Moderate drought conditions are now being felt in Haralson, Carroll, Coweta, Fayette, Clayton, Henry, Rockdale, Newton, Walton, Morgan, Oconee, Greene, Clarke, Oglethorpe, Taliaferro, Wilkes, Madison and Elbert counties. The classification of these counties in moderate drought is based on extremely low rain over the past two months. These counties have received between 50 and 80 percent of normal rain during that time period. Over the past two months, Atlanta has received 80 percent of normal rain. Athens has received 48 percent of normal rain. Decreasing soil moisture is currently the major drought concern in these counties. The remaining counties across north Georgia are classified as being abnormally dry. Soil moisture in these counties is generally in the normal range for late May but decreasing rapidly. Stream flows are on the low end of normal in these counties. There remains an increased wildfire risk across the state. Precautions need to be exercised when doing any activity that could generate sparks. For the most part, water resources should remain adequate for municipal and industrial use through the summer. Most water systems in Georgia have the capacity for a drought lasting less than a year. Lake levels will decrease during the summer. Being good stewards of water resources is especially prudent during a drought even though water resources are expected to remain adequate for the foreseeable future. Up-to-date information on dry conditions across Georgia can be found at www.georgiadrought.org. Updated weather conditions can be found at www.georgiaweather.net.
As the weather grows cooler most landscape plants begin to go dormant. Fall is an excellent time to install new plant material. Many home gardeners like to install plants in the spring when their leaves are unfurling and many go into bloom. Spring planting is acceptable, but fall planting is preferable. The summer months are not good for planting due to the intense heat and prolonged dry spells.Newly installed plant material, even if properly watered, is highly stressed and can die. In the fall months, the air temperatures have cooled and the plants are not under as much stress. The stems and leaves will begin going dormant, but the roots will continue to grow in the soil. Cold weather gives the plant more time to become established and develop a strong, healthy root system. By the following spring and summer, the plants will be more resistant to heat and drought conditions. Spring-planted trees and shrubs have a much shorter period of time to become established. This makes them more vulnerable to the stresses of summer.For trees and shrubs, dig the width of the hole at least one and one-half to two times the size of the root ball. Plant it at the same depth as it was in the container. Do not install the plant’s crown below soil level. Planting too deeply can lead to rot and other problems leading to damage and possible death of the plant material. Research has shown adding organic matter, like compost or top soil, to the hole is not necessary. The plant’s roots might be so happy in the rich soil that it prevents their roots from growing out into the native soil. However, when planting a bed of multiple trees and shrubs, add organic matter and till it in throughout the entire planting bed. Do not fill the individual holes with organic matter.When purchasing plants, select plants that appear healthy and free of insects and diseases. Pull the plant out of the pot and examine the roots. Healthy roots should be white or light brown and spread throughout the root ball. Avoid plants with black mushy roots, or those with poorly developed root systems. If plants roots are matted around the edge of the root ball, use a knife and make a few cuts to break up the mat and allow the roots to spread. Do not apply fertilizer to the individual planting holes. Wait until the plants become established before fertilizing. Thoroughly water the plants once or twice a week. Apply two to three inches of mulch, such as pine straw, pine bark or cypress mulch, around the plants. Do not mass mulch around the stems of the trees and shrubs. This can lead to disease and insect infestation of the stem. Fall is the best time of the year to establish trees, shrubs, and many types of perennials. Install these plants now to enjoy them in the spring and into the future. For more information on fall plantings, contact your local University of Georgia Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.