Summer days are long gone, but Misti Warner-Andersen is still watering the outdoor plants around her home in south Flagstaff. An ornamental dogwood tree with green and red-tinged leaves needs a good soaking, as do ferns poking up beneath it.

A fall that has stretched on without any rain or snow means that residents have to keep watering their plants, even though they have turned off their sprinklers and unhooked their outdoor hoses, said Warner-Andersen, who is the co-owner of Warner's Nursery and Landscaping.

Flagstaff is on its 50th day without precipitation, with near-term forecasts showing little moisture in sight. The gauge at Pulliam Airport saw its last measurable rainfall on Sept. 27, while records show normal precipitation from then until now is 2.75 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

That stretch of dry days doesn’t get close to any records, though. The longest time without precipitation in Flagstaff was a 99-day stretch that ended New Year’s Eve of 1999.

Along with the lack of moisture, temperatures have been higher than normal for much of this fall, with the period from Nov. 1 to Nov. 13 coming in as the sixth warmest on record for Flagstaff.

The average temperature in October was 3 degrees above normal.

Tony Merriman, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the jet stream that affects storm patterns has been tracking across the northern part of the country, so storms aren’t coming far enough south to impact Arizona.

The long-term forecast also isn’t good for those hoping for a cold, snowy winter in Flagstaff. The most recent weather outlook shows the odds are tilted in favor of warmer and drier conditions persisting through the winter. That’s pretty typical of a La Nina weather pattern, which is in place and is expected to last through the winter, Merriman said.

LAWNS AND GARDENS

Warner-Andersen, the nursery co-owner, said that without natural precipitation, homeowners need to continue to water plants, especially those that have been planted in the past three to five years. The recent warm weather also means some plants have not yet gone dormant and still need substantial water, Warner-Andersen said.

Considering the current conditions, Warner-Andersen recommended a slow, deep soak once a week for shrubs, perennials and trees that are newly planted and have not yet gone dormant. For a small ornamental tree, she said soaking for 20 to 30 minutes should do the job.

Because many people have already unhooked their irrigation systems, Warner said the best strategy is to turn the hose on low and slowly soak plants.

Plants that have gone dormant — indicated by brown, dead leaves that are falling off — need to be watered well once or twice a month during winter months without natural precipitation, she said. Trees that are more than five years old should be watered once a month in months without moisture unless it’s a true native tree that prefers drier conditions, she said.

Even if plants survive dry periods, they can get weakened, which will make them more susceptible to disease and fungus later on, Warner-Andersen said.

If people have drought-tolerant native lawns, they will likely go dormant until they get water, so Warner-Andersen suggested focusing on shrubs, perennials and trees.

For people considering doing some planting over the Thanksgiving holiday, Warner-Andersen said they should go for it if the ground isn’t frozen. The ground temperature is generally warmer now than it is in May, when most people are thinking about planting, she said. Plants are also cheaper to buy and they are going dormant so the replanting isn’t as stressful on them, she said.

WILDLIFE

Wildlife managers are noticing that conditions are drying out on the forest as well.

Canyon bottoms for the most part are dry and a lot of the stock tanks monitored by the Arizona Game and Fish Department are drying up as well, according to Luke Apfel, an officer with the department. The places that do still have water seem to be heavily used, Apfel wrote in an email.

Some game managers also have started hauling water to certain tanks and catchments to support wildlife, Game and Fish spokeswoman Shelly Shepherd said.

Those water sources are especially critical for bigger animals, while smaller mammals tend to meet more of their water needs through their food, Shepherd said.

The department also is noticing hunters camping near ponds and springs, which limits wildlife access to those scarce water sources. That's more of a problem this year given the dry conditions, wildlife manager said. State regulations prohibit camping within a quarter-mile of a critical water source.

This article has been changed from its original version. 

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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