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Dry summer on the way, so water wisely
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I have just received an interesting outlook from the Climate Extension Specialist at UGA, Mark Boudreau, concerning our current drought conditions here in North Georgia.

The Climate Prediction Center seems to think we will have warmer temperatures and drier conditions through the next three months.

What does that mean for the gardener? Water, water and more water.

Vegetable gardens, lawns, ornamental plants and virtually everything in your garden needs hydration.

What can one do to help this situation?

We all remember the severe drought a few years back.

Water restrictions became a major issue. While conditions are not as dire as before, we still need to establish good watering practices and rely on more native and drought resistant plants.

If you want a complete list of these great plants, just call the extension office at 770-535-8293.

The heat is on

One of the main questions I have gotten lately is the tomato issue. Many people are reporting their blossoms are dropping off before they can set fruit.

This phenomenon is caused by temperature, not disease. There is nothing worse for a tomato lover than to go out and see their blossoms wilting away.

The cause is that most tomatoes are sensitive to heat. But once they have bloomed and set tomatoes, the heat does not seem to bother them. The temperatures have consistently been above 85 degrees during the day and above 70 degrees at night.

High nighttime temps are worse than high daytime temps because the plant never gets to rest. As long as this continues, we will keep seeing tomato blossom drop.

If the temperatures stay above 90 degrees consistently, tomatoes will need to be watered more frequently and deeper to insure good deep root development.

Also, try to choose hybrid over heirloom tomatoes because they are hardier. Look for descriptions that state "heat set" or "heat tolerant." Varieties such as Heat Wave, Solar Set, Surfire and Sunchaser are good heat- tolerant choices.

You vegetable garden lovers need to check your other veggies as well. Look for heat tolerant varieties if you plan on planting more through the summer.

Mulching is very important. Use newspaper to cover around your plant and then cover with pine straw or mulched leaves. Any mulching will conserve the water and keep moisture in.

Lawns also suffer during periods of drought.

Watering goals for a good lawn is to keep the soil slightly moist in the upper six inches. Lawns do best when they are watered once a week deeply and then allowed to completely dry out.

Do not water in the heat of day. The water is evaporating before it has time to soak in to the soil. Water preferably in the early morning. This allows time for the grass to dry before nightfall and keep fungal diseases at bay.

Normally a sprinkler will need to run at least an hour to apply the water it needs. Place a clear plastic cup weighted down with a washer in different locations in your yard and measure how much water the lawn is getting in an hour. If you are getting an inch or more, then the grass is getting its share of water. Short, daily sprinklings are not beneficial.

During dry periods, determine which plants need the most watering. Selectively hand water shrubs showing drought stress, like hydrangeas, viburnums and gardenias. Directly apply to the base of the plant and try to provide a slow application.

Soaker hoses are great because they can effectively water large square-foot areas filled with flower beds or groups of shrubs. Soaker hoses conserve water and when used properly, they will usually apply 1 gallon per foot per hour.

Rain barrels can also provide much needed water in times of drought stress. You can go online to purchase rain barrels or you can make your own.

Gainesville Public Utilities has two scheduled workshops (July 14 and Oct. 6), where you can make your own rain barrel for $35. If you would like to register for a rain barrel class, contact Jennifer Flowers at 770-532-7462.

Hopefully the current drought situation will not get to severe proportions. A lot will depend on the tropical season ahead.

In the meantime, we all can effectively keep our water resources in check without giving up our landscapes that we so enjoy.

To check the current water restrictions for Georgia, click here.

Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293.