Crystal Ball Photography – Trees in a Drought

Crystal Ball Photography - Red Maple

Crystal Ball Photography – Red Maple © 2012 Bo Mackison

It is difficult to realize how great a part of all that is cheerful and delightful in the recollections of our own life is associated with trees.  ~Wilson Flagg

The drought in the Midwest – the one I know the most about  – just may turn into a ravaging killer. Farmers I’ve talked to say they have maybe a week or ten days to save their crops, but only IF they get a few inches of soil soaking rain. In my area, Madison Wisconsin, nearly every one has allowed their grass to go dormant. A good thing. Grass will recover and happily green when the rains come.

Advice, straight from the website of the County Extension Service is “forget the grass, but please water your trees.”

In my neighborhood I’ve already seen four trees, all 10 to 15-year-olds, succumb to heat stress. Their leaves browned several weeks ago and now the leaves have dropped, giving several yards an eerie look of autumn.

Other trees in the neighborhood show other signs of stress –  leaf curling, especially in the highest branches, and a scattering of yellowing leaves. These trees need water. Now. If you use a watering schedule and water at night, your water bills will certainly reflect the watering of your trees, but I guarantee it is more cost-effective to water now rather than remove and replace a dead tree next spring. Just saying.

A few gardening basics will give our trees and plants the best chance to survive these difficult conditions:

1. Water your trees. Don’t wait until your trees show signs of stress. Make sure each tree receives a long soaking – duration of at least several hours – at least once a week. The most effective and easiest way to water is to use a hose on trickle. We’ll set one up at the base of a tree in the late evening, and then turn it off in the early morning. This gives adequate water and time for the roots to fully benefit from the watering. We have eight trees in our yard that we have identified as needing a weekly watering. I set up a schedule, and water a tree every night. Eight trees, seven days. It’s close enough.

2. Mulch your trees. If your trees don’t have at least a 12 inch circle of mulch around them – more if the tree is large – you are missing an opportunity to use less when watering. A heavy layer of mulch not only helps protect the roots of young trees, it also holds on to the moisture from watering for all ages of trees. This makes watering more cost-effective.

3. Grass doesn’t need watering,  unless you are establishing a new lawn. You can save your money and not feel badly. Once it begins to rain again, the grass will return to its summer green in a few weeks or months.

4. Do water the plants most important to you. I water my small perennial garden using an irrigation trickler for an hour each night. These flowers give me great pleasure and I do not want to take a chance on their health. Plus, I have several tomato and pepper plants interspersed in the flowers, and I do love to pick and eat fresh veggies from the garden.

So, think about your yard’s and garden’s priorities, and then water where needed.

Meanwhile, I’ll return to my rain dance!


Bo Mackison is a photographer and the owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is experimenting with crystal ball photography. More on that tomorrow. Today she is more concerned about the trees in her neighborhood!

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. We’ve been watering our trees here, too. As you said, the grass will recover so that’s not something we worry about. I feel so sorry for the trees, more than anything else.

    Wonderful image, Bo. I hope your crystal ball is predicting survival for the drought-ravaged trees.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I am having fun with my crystal ball. And it predicted rain, and it was right. Wisconsin still isn’t out of danger – our drought conditions were just changed to extreme from severe, but the rain was a move in the right direction.

  2. That drought is so sad! Good advice about the trees!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Yes, and it involves so many places. Wells are going dry, tap water from city wells turning brown. Kinda scary stuff. So we trickle water the trees, and watch for the rain clouds.

  3. The crystal ball photograph is wonderful. It’s so strange to see the green Mid-West turning brown. So sad. Glad you are watering your trees. Small price to pay to keep them alive.

  4. Gandalf says:

    The tree is upside down. It would keep a lot more water if it were right side up. 🙂

    You guys may need to water your lawns a little bit pretty soon. After about 60 days or so without water even the grass can die even when it is dormant

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Thanks, Gandalf. I’m following the University Extension reports for home gardeners, if they say water the grass, I may have to water at night.

  5. Well we have no problems with drought instead everything is wet and grows like mad. Especially the lawn.

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