For you SW Ohio folk, take care of those trees.

I know my water bill has been and will continue to be high. I'd rather pay an extra $100 or two to prevent spending $K on new trees.

Drought puts trees in danger
Grass may be browner on the other side, too

As August wears on, a relentless sun beats down on copper-colored lawns, and trees droop with shriveled leaves.

In Northern Kentucky, David Doyle's landscaping work is drying up. In West Chester, Linda Young keeps the faucet running to save her vegetables. In California, Ky., the pasture is so barren that Glenn Lauer and his neighbors have had to sell nearly half their cattle.

Heat may be mean, but drought can be downright cruel.

"I've never seen anything like it," said John E. McMichael, a certified arborist with Arbor Design who's been working with trees for 50 years.

By this time of year, the Greater Cincinnati region normally has had about 30 inches of rainfall, said Mike Ryan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

As of Wednesday, the reading was less than 19 inches.

Couple that 11-inch shortage with the blistering heat - this month is on track to be the hottest August on record - and Lauer's cattle suffer and Young's water bills soar and landscapers like Doyle find themselves unable to plant. The dryness and heat is causing retaining walls to shift, landscapers say, and driveways to buckle and once-lush lawns to grow crisp.

And then there are the trees.

"Essentially, trees have been under attack," said Dave Gamstetter, Cincinnati's city forester.

First they were blasted in a January ice storm, then came an unexpectedly bitter cold just as they were beginning to leaf out, Gamstetter said. Spring brought little rain, but summer brought buckets of sun. All of it might lead to an abundance of firewood in the coming year.

"I can sense the hurt those trees are going through right now," McMichael said. "If people don't start watering in the next week or two, we're going to have trees dying all over the city."

In fact, the damage is already widespread, arborists say. Telltale signs include leaves that wilt or change color prematurely or branches that fail to perk up in the morning. At Connie Booth's church in Anderson Township, the buckeye trees are already shedding their leaves, trying to go dormant well before they should.

"Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that the tree is going to die," said Booth, the volunteer coordinator for the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati. "But it doesn't help it."

Some tree owners might not even realize what's happening. They water lawns and flower beds while thick, decades-old trees go thirsty.

Gamstetter, though, said it's better to focus on the trees than the turf. Trees that are inadequately hydrated become weaker and more susceptible to disease and bugs such as the emerald ash borer. Sick trees that go dormant - maybe even the one a homeowner climbed as a child - might never leaf out in the spring. Removal, too, could cost thousands.

Young, in West Chester, isn't risking it. She had a choice: Pay a potentially astronomical water bill or watch the trees and garden she'd tended for so long die.

"I told my husband we will need to take a loan out to pay the water bill this month," Young said, "but it really wasn't as bad as we thought it would be."


Keep trees alive

Area arborists say water, water, water. Here are their tips:

A rule of thumb is to provide 10 gallons per one inch of trunk diameter.

Water at least once a week for several hours to reach the roots.

Use a soaker hose or turn faucets to a slow trickle. Other options include wet bags that strap to trees (available at nurseries) or large buckets poked with holes to let the water seep out.

Don't fertilize yet, but look into doing so in November or December, after the tree is dormant.