Soil type had a major effect on whether plants were able to make it through the drought. My friend Neil Diboll of Prairie Nursery in the Central Sands region of Wisconsin told me about his observations of plants near or at his nursery in Westfield. When I visit Neil, I’m always amazed at the differences in the plants in his part of the state versus my southeastern area. I always tell him that going to the sand country is like going to the moon. It’s foreign to me. Anyway, here are some of Neil’s “otherworldly” observations:
Many arborvitae fried in the sand. In the clay loam of the Southeast, they were fine. In the sand country, standard-sized Norway Spruces were not spared like they were in the Southeastern part of the state. Neil told me of a large specimen tree that he drives past on his way to work that was severely damaged by the droughty, sandy condition. He said Magnolias are a bad choice for his soil. Neil’s primary area of expertise is prairie plants. He gave me some very interesting insight into what happened to some of the prairie plants in his area. He said he had never seen Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Little Bluestem Grass (Schizachyrium scorparium) compromised by drought like they were this year. In ‘88, he said Little Bluestem stopped growing and turned a powdery blue. This year many of the plants did the same thing but some also had leaves brown out. The Big Bluestem kept all of its leaves in the drought of ‘88. This year, there was leaf browning on portions of many plants in very dry sands. Plants in heavier soils showed no browning. Another of Niel’s observations that confirmed the drought of ‘12 was worse than that of ‘88 was the wilting of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). He had never seen this occur before. Some plants that he saw that were not fazed by the drought even in his dry sand, included: Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), Compass Plant (Silphium lacinatum), Hairy Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis), Nodding Pink Onion (Allium cernuum), Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) and Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpureum). Plants in the sand have it tough in a drought. It should give us a greater appreciation for the heavy soils of Southeast Wisconsin.
The drought of 2012 was a terrible weather event for many of our businesses and plants. It’s not something we want to see again for many years. However, it was a great learning experience. It allowed us to better understand the drought tolerances of plants we work with. I’m sure all of you have your own set of observations from this experience. Be sure to write them down so you can tell your grandchildren about the Drought of 2012. And that you learned a great deal in this very historic year.