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Relentless winds can parch plants, pull moisture from soil

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Friday, June 1, 2018 8:34 PM

I am sick of this wind, and I don’t even have hair. It’s not uncommon to have blustery days in April, but as we enter June, I always thought they would start to die down. But not this year – the year where Mother Nature is putting us to the test and making nothing easy.

Wind can also play havoc with your plants and our soil. On a larger scale, wind, and the potential erosion it creates, can remove topsoil, break down soil structure and eventually cause a shift to less-desirable plants (no, not aspens – we are talking about fewer grasses and more weeds).

Topsoil is the layer that has the greatest amount of organic matter, biological diversity and nutrients within the soil profile. It is also the layer, in our environment, that is either minimal in quantity and/or takes a long time to develop. I have a slide in my soils class, which I teach my master gardeners, that reads: “Man – despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication and his many accomplishments – owes his existence to a 6-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.” But with these winds, the lack of soil moisture and precipitation (and subsequent reduction in plant material), we risk losing that topsoil.

Those same students who sat through (on the edge of their seats, I’m sure) one of my classes on soils or food production hopefully remember how important organic matter is to improving the suitability of the soil to support plant growth (soil tilth). If you can find a way to add organic matter, do so. It glues soil particles into larger aggregates, improves soil aeration and water infiltration and improves or increases the amount of plant-available water in the soil. It will also slowly release nutrients that are then available for the plants to uptake. Organic matter also builds up the topsoil.

The gardener or farmer can increase organic matter by returning disease-free residue back to the soil, adding compost or composted manure and planting a cover crop, which may also help reduce wind erosion.

In the vegetable garden, these winds can quickly desiccate, or dry out, your tender transplants. Plants that have a lot of leaf surface area – squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and leafy crops – dry out quickly. Continually stressed plants could become stunted and demonstrate a reduction in yield.

A slick way of reducing the damage caused by desiccating winds, while at the same time providing some protection against cold temperatures, is to use floating row covers, which are lightweight fabrics that lay directly over crops. Because row covers transmit light, they provide crop protection over an extended period as well as provide 2 to 4 degrees of frost protection. They can also screen out some insects. Make sure you remove the floating row cover from any insect-pollinated crops. Check with local nurseries for availability.

For anyone who uses sprinklers or irrigates (crops, gardens, lawns, etc.), the best time to water your landscape is between the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. Unless you see symptoms of drought, watering during the day is least efficient because of evaporation and those daytime winds blowing the water off-target.

Enjoy the spring – we’ll all be wishing for a cool breeze after a nice rain come August. We can always wish.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter

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