The year 2022 has not been easy for gardeners.
We certainly lived by the old adage, “If you don’t like the weather, give it a day and it will change.” The erratic weather patterns not only bothered us, but also affected our works.
2022 started on the dry side, followed by the dry fall and winter of 2021. We had very little rain or snowfall. Plants faced the spring already parched. While winter drought isn’t as stressful as the combination of hot and dry, it is tough on plants. Drought-stressed plants are forced to use their stored reserves to survive. When these reserves are depleted, this leads to poor growth, a decrease in overall vigor and possible death.
When the dry season finally arrived, we went from a water hunger to a water festival. May and early June received above-average rainfall and below-average temperatures. The proverbial curve ball was thrown at our stressed plants again.
Root systems that had shriveled and been damaged due to a lack of soil moisture now faced the additional challenge of excess moisture, which deprived the soil of oxygen. As a result, plants drowned, lost forage roots, and suffered additional stress.
The next wild change in the weather came in mid-June. That’s when I learned a new term: lightning drought. We are all familiar with the term flash flood, which is caused by heavy rain. A flash drought is defined as a rapid onset of unusually dry conditions combined with above-average temperatures.
Overnight, plants accustomed to coolness and abundant moisture were exposed to a scorching sun and subjected to a new stressful event. They withered, leaves scorched, and as the drought persisted, some even died.
Over a period of a few months we went from above average early rainfall to well below average rainfall until October when the drought persisted. According to the US Drought Monitor, much of the Kansas City area was experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions.
Some rain events in early November did not end the drought. Even after several inches of rain we received, most of the area is still affected by severe drought. It will take more consistent rain over a longer period of time to pull us out of a drought.
How will the last weeks of 2022 go? Are we swinging back to a rainy season? Will the drought last? Will we experience heavy snowfall? Will it be cold or above average? Only time can tell.
What we do know is that our plants are stressed and their ability to recover is compromised. Food reserves are depleted and root systems are weakened. So what should we do since we can’t control the weather?
My advice is to make sure our plants, especially evergreens and younger plants, get good soil moisture. Plants consume water during the winter, even when they are dormant. Research has shown that ample soil moisture improves plants’ ability to withstand potentially harsh winter conditions.
Climatologists warn that our weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable. It looks like the roller coaster ride of 2022 will continue. We need to hold on, plant more adaptable and native varieties, and better understand how to manage their water needs.
Dennis Patton is a horticultural agent at Kansas State University Research and Extension. Do you have a question for him or other college extension experts? Email them to [email protected]