SIKESTON -- With Mother Nature not giving an inch in the rain department, many area residents have resorted to manually supplying water to their lawns, trees and shrubs.
"The drought has upped the average daily flow," assured Wayne McSpadden, operations manager of the Sikeston Board of Municipalities. "We do have more and more people putting in lawn irrigation systems, and that's driving it up."
In 2004, during the hottest months -- June, July and August -- the peak of usage occurred in July with 4.98 million gallons of water per day; the average for the time period was 4.01 million gallons per day. The average throughout 2004 was 3.5 million gallons per day.
So far this year's peak usage occurred in June at 5.8 million gallons per day with July's peak a little lower at 5 million gallons per day. The average for the month of June was 4.7 million gallons per day.
But Sikeston residents shouldn't worry, McSpadden said. The plant capacity is about 7 million gallons of water per day.
"We always ask people to pay attention when they do irrigate. Do it in early morning -- that's the best time, and don't let irrigation run when there's no reason to run it like when it's raining," McSpadden said.
Jim McCall, owner of Garden Lane Nursery in Sikeston, noted this year he's put in about 30 percent more residential irrigation systems compared to last summer.
"People are getting tired of dragging the hoses around the grounds," McCall said. "Our repair work has doubled because people are paying more attention to their lawns."
While Tim Baker, horticulture specialist for the University of Missouri Extension's Southeast Region, admits it's great to take care of a lawn, he also warned too much water can cause damage.
"If you really want to do the right thing, you should water up to an inch or so a week," Baker recommended, adding when it rains, the amount should be adjusted.
Baker advised using short rain gauges to measure how much water the lawn is getting from a sprinkler.
"Lawns are generally pretty resistant to a drought," Baker said. "They'll turn brown sometimes and maybe look pretty rough, but they're just going dormant rather than getting hurt."
Although the grass is just doing what it's supposed to, it can be pretty confusing causing some people to think it's drying out, Baker said.
"It will go brown and sit there and not grow much. If you'll notice, the grass was pretty dry before the hurricane came in and after that rain, it took off and started growing again," Baker said.
It's better to underwater than overwater, but if there's any doubt, especially on heavier soils, just get out there and without doing too much, feel the soil, Baker suggested.
"If it's bone-dry, you better get more water on it," Baker said.
Overwatering can lead to disease issues, and it all depends on soil type, Baker said. On the Sikeston ridge, the sandy soil needs a little more water, but if the soil has more clay, it could be overwatered easily, he said.
The key to telling the difference between a drought and disease situation is uniformity, Baker said. Uniformly brown grass is typically the result of a drought.
"But if patches are involved, and it's supposed to be uniform, then you probably have a disease and should have it looked at. Disease is usually going to show up in the wetter time of year," Baker said.
Don't overfertilize because the nitrogen stresses the grass. Warm season grasses should be fertilized in the spring and cool season grasses in the fall, he noted.
The same watering advice for grass applies to trees and shrubs.
"If you have sandy soil and are in a fairly dry situation, and you have a tree you don't want to lose, I encourage you to water around the tree," Baker said.
Drought stress can be very difficult on trees, especially if they have winter injury.
"If a tree is not fully prepared in the chemical processes in getting ready for the winter, it can actually injure them," Baker said.
Last December's bad freeze and snow storm came through, interrupting the tree's dormant phase. And this spring peach producers saw a loss in their crop even though their trees were not hurt, Baker said.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service forecasts a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Friday through Tuesday.
So far this summer Sikeston has received a total of 13.65 inches of rain -- 1.2 in May, 4.4 in June (3.2 fell on June 10) and 8.05 in July (over 5 inches fell on July 11 and 12), according to the Sikeston Board of Municipalities, The average amount of rainfall for May, June and July for the three years prior to 2005 was 13.71 inches; however, this year's rain has been sporadic with two or three weeks going by without any rain, noted Lester Wright, business manager for the Sikeston Board of Municipalities.
But the current weather situation doesn't surprise Baker.
"What can I say?" Baker asked. "It's Missouri."
For more information about dealing with the drought, visit the University of Missouri Extension's Web site: agebb.missouri.edu/drought/