Bumper Crop of Berries--Indicator of Drought
Extreme drought, and we're covered in fruit. Of the small variety. That we definitely won't be eating, as it was intended for wildlife from the get go.
At the top of this post is Flowering Dogwood, located 30 feet away in my western neighbors' yard. When I ambled that direction to take a picture, two mockingbirds and a few robins swooped out to wait until I was further away before returning. It's beautiful, and the songbirds love it. Below, a "Winter King" hawthorne tree, a small tree roughly the size of Flowering Dogwood, is also covered. This is a good thing, right?
Yes and no. When everything is going overboard like this, it is an indicator of stress. This has been a really dry year in Transylvania county. Dry enough for canoes to get hung up on the rocky bottom of the French Broad River, in places. One way that plants respond to drought is to really load up on berries in the hope of successfully spreading their seed.
This small American Holly tree has far more berries than I had thought it had flowers in the spring. Clearly, I was not paying sufficient attention. And just like the dogwood and the hawthorne, it's really loaded. But while on the one hand all this "seed production" is both beautiful and a boost for wildlife, the stress of drought also means that these berries are likely not as tasty as usual. Since I won't be doing a taste test, we're going to have to take that on faith, since that is what happens to more-usually-consumed-by-humans fruits like blueberries and blackberries.
We do not generally water any of our established shrubs or trees. Usually, there is sufficient soil moisture to protect them. Even if the top couple of inches of topsoil and clay have gotten dry, a shovel will reveal moisture at six inches down and beyond. "Established" is a key word, here, though. Newly planted trees and shrubs--and by "new" I mean "this year"-- do require supplemental moisture to encourage the growth of roots outside the root ball and into the native soil.
In agriculture, however, irrigation of crops is part of the process. This is done partly to increase weight, partly to maintain predictability of flavor, and sometimes because the plants wouldn't make it without a weekly drink. In areas of the country that are traditionally dry, agricultural trees and shrubs pretty typically only have roots in the top two feet of soil, where irrigation is available to them. So for those of us living in *currently* moister climes, if prolonged drought rears its ugly head, we may need to modify how we treat our tree and shrub crops by providing extra moisture.
The soil profile of an area, for those involved in agriculture, is a valuable tool in developing a plan for success with crops. Some soils have a much greater ability to hold moisture than others. In general, the greater the amount of organic matter in the soil, the more moisture it can hold. Sandy soils lose their moisture more quickly. Clay soils, however, can have another problem for crops if they do not have much in the way of organic matter, and that is oxygen--we're not the only ones that need that vital element to survive.
With the exception of the dogwood at the top of the page, all of these plants are on our quarter-acre lot in Transylvania County. The amount of stress each species is having depends partly on the preferences of the species (so far as water is concerned) and partly on the location of the plant within our landscape. From the photos here, you may come to the same conclusion I have that the American Holly is in the best shape, though my neighbor's dogwood is a close second. The dogwood has been in place for decades--no doubt an advantage. The holly was planted in 2008. The two species in greatest stress are the crabapple and the winterberry holly--both are street plantings with a southern exposure, from which we also get wind. It will be increasingly important for me to maintain mulch or ground covers around these plants to help maintain soil moisture levels if the drought extends into spring.