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A Dry Fall Threatens the Landscape

Kansas City and the surrounding areas are currently experiencing what the state climatologist is calling “abnormally dry conditions.” Entering into the month of December, the area has consistently seen warmer than usual temperatures combined with rainfall amounts averaging 4.5 inches below normal. These near-drought conditions can cause stress to turf, trees and broadleaf evergreens.

In order to develop strong root systems, both newly seeded and established turf must have ample water on a consistent basis.(The University of Missouri Extension has several excellent online guides to watering turf.) Properties that were seeded this fall but were not irrigated may experience decline. Additionally, newly seeded areas that have experienced heavy foot traffic may also show stress.


Overseeding in late winter, usually early March, is recommended. Without the overseeding, the thin areas will be susceptible to weed breakthrough for the entire growing season. Unfortunately, pre-emergent only prevents weed growth for a short time; the area will then need several applications of herbicides to remain weed free.


Weeds can be difficult to control in stressed turf.

Weeds can be difficult to control in stressed turf.


Even though deciduous trees are now dormant, they still need water. Newly planted trees need about an inch of water per week. A single slow, deep watering is preferable to multiple shallow waterings. Make sure that the water extends to the drip line of the tree. Established trees can also benefit from watering during drought and near-drought conditions.

Both conifers and broadleaf evergreens are also being impacted by the dry conditions. Newly planted ones should be sprayed with anti-desiccant to help maintain moisture levels during the winter. This area’s frigid temperatures and brutal winds combined with lack of water can cause  significant winter damage to tender new plants. Two to three-year-old conifers and broadleaf evergreens also benefit from an application of anti-desiccant now.

Because of moisture loss and lack of water replacement, plants that are not treated and not watered will most likely exhibit some winter damage in the spring. Tips of damaged plants often turn brown, die off and drop. Since this mimics fungus damage, it is important to be able to recognize the difference. Typically winter tip damage does not signal a dying plant; new growth should eventually push through. If the plant’s appearance is unsightly, it can be improved by expert pruning.

Experienced landscape professionals can prune damaged tips to improve a tree's appearance.

Experienced landscape professionals can prune damaged tips to improve a tree’s appearance.


Winter conditions here in the Kansas City area can be difficult for even well-established turf, trees and plant material, much less those that are newly installed. Extra attention by landscape professionals can head off expensive problems in the spring.