April showers have helped lawns and flowers, but the jury’s still out on the trees.
A relatively wet few weeks — Lawrence has received 5 inches of moisture since March 1 — has left the city in a sea of green, pink, yellow and purple.
But many tree branches remain brown — visible scars left by some of the driest and hottest years since the Dust Bowl.
There’s no definitive answer on how much this wet weather will help area trees. The drought’s effects on the tree population have yet to become totally clear.
“Still, any moisture helps,” said Ann Peuser, owner of Clinton Parkway Nursery, 4900 Clinton Parkway.
The wet weather "is providing adequate moisture for photosynthesis to take place and normal growth,” said Crystal Miles, the city’s horticulture and forestry manager. “It’s doing much more for us than any watering we could do.”
That's for living trees. Brown trees and tree limbs are beyond saving, Peuser said. “Even though Junior planted it in kindergarten, what good is a 20-foot-tall tree with one branch?” she asked.
But before oiling up the chainsaw, take heart. “Where there’s green, there’s still hope,” Peuser said.
Peuser explained that a stressed tree with a few dead limbs can be saved by monthly watering and the continuing wet weather. Mulch around the base of the tree also helps to keep in moisture.
Peuser said trees just beginning to put on leaves would benefit most from the recent moisture.
That's good news for the Parks and Recreation Department. Over the past two years, the drought has cost it nearly 1,000 of the estimated 30,000 trees it has planted over the years. Miles said the drought has hit pine, elm, hackberry and ash trees the hardest.
The moisture is also good news for Eric Walther, who has managed Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm, 794 U.S. Highway 40, since 1977. Walther lost 1,200 trees last year, making it his worst crop ever.
With no Christmas trees left for people to cut down last winter, Walther considered closing, but instead he imported trees from Wisconsin and North Carolina and staked them in his empty field in order to provide customers with the Christmas tree farm experience.
He said this wet spell is barely a drop in the bucket for his crop, which takes seven to 10 years to grow. “I’m definitely waiting to receive,” he said.
In the near term, at least, the wet weather is expected to continue. The National Weather Service forecasts a chance of showers for five of the next seven days, with the best chance of rain coming on Wednesday. The U.S. Drought Monitor still lists Lawrence in a state of moderate drought.