Green celebration
Tree care possible during drought

COVINGTON - Arbor Day, traditionally a time to encourage tree planting and care, was celebrated across the state Friday.

Due to drought conditions, Covington's Arbor Day ceremony did not include the traditional planting of new trees in honor or memory of community members. Instead, a Hardwood oak was planted along Clark Street to replace a tree that died after last year's planting.

It is possible, however, to plant and care for new trees during a drought, according to Newton County Extension Agent

Ted Wynne.

Mulching is the key to keeping tree roots moist, Wynne said, adding that mulching should be done now "so it will keep that root system cool in the spring when hot temperatures do arrive."

The most common types of mulch are pine straw, ground hardwood and other organic refuse, Wynne said.

Too much mulch can be detrimental to tree growth, causing root systems to migrate up into the mulch and dry out too quickly, he said. The Georgia Forestry Commission recommends a depth of 3 inches.

Mulch should not be spread too close to the tree's trunk because excessive moisture there could cause disease.

However, the mulch should extend to the trees drip line, or the border of the tree's canopy.

Wynne warned against excessive fertilization, which he said many people do in an effort to make up for less water. Trying to force a tree to grow could be harmful, he said, adding that the roots of trees tend to naturally prune themselves.

"A lot of trees are deep rooted and have enough moisture to survive during the drought. We consider them not really as high-maintenance as most plants. But the first year is critical in getting a tree established so it can take care of itself," he said.

With Gov. Sonny Perdue's recent announcement that some hand watering will be allowed beginning April 1, "that may be a good time when you need to think about doing a little fertilization to get trees and shrubs back into good balance," he said.

The closer to spring the better for planting trees, Wynne said.

"If you plant them closer to May and June you're not nearly as likely to get them established successfully," he said.

For those who want a little more than trees dotting their yards, xeriscaping is a technique used to create a drought-tolerant landscape.

It involves grouping plants according to water needs, sloping plants and creating swales to get maximum moisture and choosing appropriate plants and mulches.

For more information on xeriscaping, visit www.caes.uga.edu and search for xeriscaping or call the local extension service at 770-784-2010.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: Tree care tips

Tips for planting and taking care of trees during a drought:

· Mulch trees. Add mulch at a depth of 3 inches and place it over the tree roots. Do not place mulch against the tree trunk.

· Use recycled water or gray water from your home. Sources could be dehumidifiers, shower water before heating or air conditioning condensate.

· Pump water from other sources such as detention ponds, lakes, creeks or cisterns. Remember to get permission from the landowners if the water source is not on your property.

· Use gator bags, a slow-release watering bag designed specifically for newly planted trees and shrubs, and refill them with recycled water.

· Install a rain barrel at your planting site.

Source: Georgia Forestry Commission