Northern Front Range experiencing moderate drought

Winter wheat crop, trees and turf need moisture
Posted at 11:50 PM, Oct 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-01 01:50:13-04

WELD COUNTY -- Normally, by the end of October, Colorado residents have drained their underground sprinklers and have already dealt with the season's first snow.

But this was not a normal October.  It was one of the warmest on record and also quite dry.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the northern Front Range, stretching from Douglas and Jefferson Counties up the way up through Weld and Larimer Counties, is experiencing moderate drought.

Roggen wheat farmer Jerry Cooksey knows that first hand.

“Since June, we’ve had about an inch of rain in this area,” he told Denver7.

Cooksey planted winter wheat in September.  He said there was enough residual moisture in parts of the field to allow some seeds to germinate and grow.

“This row is in pretty good shape,” he said. “There is a nice number of plants, but when you go over to this row, it’s more sporadic.”

He pointed to a single seed still in the ground.

“Here’s some wheat that hasn’t even sprouted or it sprouted and died,” he said.

Cooksey says his family has been farming in the Roggen area for nearly 100 years.

“My grandfather said, ‘half the battle of raising a wheat crop is getting it up in the fall,’ he said.

The farmer added that if he doesn’t get any rain in the next week or two, he’s really going to start worrying.

“Next spring, we’ll evaluate the crop and see if the stands are there to get an average yield,” he said, “and if not, we may destroy it and plant a different crop.”

It’s not just farmers concerned about lack of moisture.

Tony Hahn of Swingle Lawn Tree and Landscape Care says homeowners should be using garden hoses to water trees and turf, especially those with a southern or western exposures.

“It’s very, very dry,” he said, “and most people have drained their sprinkler systems.”

Hahn told Denver7 that roots are continuing to grow and they need water to do so.

“Root growth accelerates in the fall,” he said. “As most people know, without root growth, you’re not going to have a decent plant come spring.”

Hahn said he’s not suggesting that homeowner turn underground sprinklers on again, “unless they’re self-draining.”

“Just pull a hose and water the trees and turf with sun exposure, especially evergreen trees,” he said.

“Evergreens soak up a lot of water this time of year and can even “pull it way from the turf,” he added.

The tree expert demonstrated how easy it is to determine if there is enough moisture in the soil.

He used a soil auger, (hollow rod) to dig out a three inch plug, then tried to mold it in his hand.

“If you can take a soil plug and make a ball that sticks together, there is plenty of moisture,” he said.  “If the soil is crumbly and you can’t make a ball that sticks together, that’s typically a sign that it’s not getting enough moisture.”

Hahn said the rule of thumb that he follows every single fall is, “I will water my landscape before the soil freezes hard, because I don’t want to run into that.”

He said, once it freezes, it’s difficult to get moisture into the subsoil.