Spring is coming to Texas early this year and some plants have already started to wake up from their winter naps.
Blooming plants and a greening landscape are pleasant to look at, but some state officials are concerned about what that might mean in terms of agriculture and fire dangers.
“We still have a lot of good soil moisture, but once these trees start breaking dormancy, which some of them have already, it’s going to get pretty concerning for us,” said James Houser of James Houser Consulting Foresters. “People don’t realize how much water all these plants start pulling in the spring.”
As plants come out of hibernation, root systems become more active, which puts strain on the already short supply of ground moisture.
While winter did bring rain to the water-parched landscape, drought from the previous year kept the area from reaching sufficient moisture levels according to Cherokee County AgriLife Extension Agent Kimberly Conway.
“We came in to winter eing very much behind the eight-ball with half of what we would (usually) receive in rainfall,” she said.” Because we were already in such drought conditions, it was not enough to overcome that with what we did get.”
Between drought conditions and winter’s state wide freezes, agriculture and horticulture could face significant challenges as summer draws closer, she said.
Conway said it wouldn’t be a surprise if markets for citrus fruits showed signs of stress brought on by freezes in West Texas. Farmers may have to start irrigating crops earlier, meaning higher production costs. Those who shy away from irrigation and rely on ground water could see reduced yields and slower growth, she said.
Houser and Conway both said the critical thing for tree planters, farmers and gardeners is in the ground work.
Houser recommended planters use as much mulch as they can and water when possible. Conway recommended that, to cut costs and keep plants healthier, switch from automatic to manual sprinklers and keep a close eye on plants.
The challenges of a drier season aren’t limited to growers, though.
In Southeast and West Texas, the Texas Forest Service has been busy battling higher-than-average numbers of wildfires.
“In the past 7 days, TFS (Texas Forest Service) has responded to 94 fires for a little under 139,000 acres,” said District Forester Jason Ellis. “We’ve also got people down in Southeast Texas and over the past couple of days, those guys have responded to about 12 or 13 wild fires.”
Spring moisture is responsible for delaying the fire season a few months, Ellis said, but dry conditions have fanned the flames and brought fire season here early.
“For this time of year, that’s a lot,” he said. “If we don’t get don’t some consistent rain, then we’re going to be looking at a pretty busy fire season this spring and this summer.”
Ellis said two forest service representatives from Jacksonville, District Fire Coordinator Michael Batton and Resource Specialist Joel Landrum, have spent their time in the Panhandle and South Texas fighting the blazes.
The National Weather Service states rain is likely over the weekend, with the forecast for Friday night and Saturday claiming a 60 percent chance of rain.
Ellis said he is hopeful that some of the rain lands in the county but that it’s not a permanent solution.
“Hopefully we’ll get some of that and having the south wind will bring the humidity up and will help us out temporarily, but from everything I’m hearing, the outlook is kind of grim for the spring,” he said.