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THEY’RE dying for a drink.
In fact, their very lives depend upon it.
So it is for the area’s drought-stricken trees, including some 600 acres in Columbus alone, according to city government statistics. Columbus Parks Manager Casey Ritz estimates that 5 to 10 percent are dead or dying.
And, with triple-digit temperatures possibly on the way, arborists and landscapers say a rainy day or two will not save what will become a changed landscape — one with less shade, shrinking foliage for wildlife and perhaps less beauty by next spring because of the loss of younger trees that already have died or will die soon.
“I think people will notice it a lot more then,” Ritz said. “And you’ll also see other trees bud out but quickly drop their leaves. That’s always a sign that something is severely wrong.”
Columbus city arborist Nick Rush said he considers this the third-worst drought — so far — in his time here since the late 1970s. Others say it’s one of the driest early summers they remember here.
Only 0.43 inches of rain has been recorded here this month, according to AccuWeather, a private forecasting firm. The normal amount by this date in June is 3.27 inches.
The parched conditions have put the area 7 inches behind the normal rainfall amount just for May and June, according to the figures.
Mitchell White, a seasonal worker with Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, is cast as a savior of sorts. His full-time job recently: to drive a 600-gallon water truck around the city watering at least 250 5- to 6-year-old trees per week. Because their root system is still growing, they are far more susceptible to drought and a range of disease, arborists said.
White’s simple hope: to save them until rain comes.
“It’s been kind of chaotic because it’s been so dry,” White said.
Columbus consulting arborist Kris Medic works for area schools, hospitals, parks and other institutions. She mentioned that some of her clients are without the funds or other resources to water enough to save their younger trees.
So, in what Medic calls “a slow-motion disaster,” they die.
“That’s hard to watch,” Medic said, but added that she clearly understands client’s limitations.
Medic and others say it’s nearly impossible to affix a dollar amount to losses thus far because it’s tough to properly estimate the investment in various trees planted over the years.
“If this kind of thing happened overnight,” she said, “it would appear much more devastating than it looks right now.”
Orchard owner Chuck VanNatta planted 14 new fruit trees on his property in April. Watering has become job one for his latest plants.
“And I think I’m about ready to run a hose even out to my bigger, older trees,” VanNatta said.
All of his 100 fruit trees on his two-acre property are still alive.
“But almost all my time the last two weeks has been spent watering,” he said.
He noted that some of his trees affected by the 2010 drought didn’t do well last year.
The other day, he saw a neighbor’s shade tree that had lost at least half its leaves.
Ron Hoskins, manager of maintenance for the 320 acres of property for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., said the good news is that maybe three or four consecutive days of solid rain “could turn things around” for established trees teetering between life and death.
Ritz understands that.
“Even now,” he said, “you can’t push the panic button.”
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