The Q&A Archives: pine recovering from drought

Question: I have a 6 ft pine tree that suffered from the drought last year. The back part of the tree is brown. The front is green and has new growth this year. The tree seems to come back in good shape this year and I hate to replant if I can save the tree. Any tips on prunning or care to get the tree back to looking great?

Answer: I can only suggest that you remove anything that is dead and hope your tree has the reserves to produce healthy new limbs and branches. Implementing water conserving gardening practices can reduce the impact of drought on your landscape. If you do not currently use these gardening practices, adopt them now and in the future.

Maintain a three to four inch layer of mulch in your garden and around trees and shrubs. Mulch helps prevent evaporation and holds moisture in the soil. Mulch also serves to maintain a cooler soil temperature and helps prevent weeds, which compete for soil moisture. Fine-textured mulches, such as pine straw, pine bark mini-nuggets and double shredded hardwood mulch do a better job of conserving moisture than coarse-textured mulches. Mulch as large an area as you can. The roots of established plants extend several times the canopy spread.

Educate your landscape with newspaper. Use a leaf rake to gently pull back existing mulch, being careful not to disturb the surface roots of plants. Then place two or three sheets of newspaper on the soil surface, moisten it, and rake the mulch back over the newspaper. The newsprint will serve as an added barrier to moisture loss. Don't make the paper layer more than two or three sheets thick. Doing so can actually keep rainwater from penetrating to the roots.

When you do irrigate, apply water slowly to achieve deep penetration that encourages deep rooting and drought tolerance. Direct water only to the root zone of wilting plants. Give priority to trees and shrubs planted within the past four months.
Install a drip, trickle or micro irrigation system to conserve water and direct it to the roots of plants where it is needed. This method wets the soil slowly and deeply. Up to 60% of irrigation water can be saved using drip versus overhead watering.

Irrigate in early morning when humidity is high. There will be less evaporation.
Consider removing plants from your garden that require frequent irrigation and are not drought tolerant. In the future, install only plants known to be tolerant of drought once they are established in the landscape.

Install rain barrels if your house is guttered to catch rainfall for watering.
Other things your can do to reduce drought related plants stress:

Do not fertilize during extended dry periods. Fertilizers are chemical salts and can actually dehydrate plants' roots.

Avoid the use of pesticides on drought stressed plants. These will likely cause added stress to the plant and may only serve to make things worse.
Selective pruning may be necessary when a plant wilts and branches start dying. In this case, pruning out the wilted material will reduce the water demand this foliage places on the roots. Scratch the bark away from the twig. If the tissue underneath is white or green then the branch is alive. If it is brown, then the branch has died. Prune back to green or live tissue.

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