As with most years, 2008 was interesting and, at times, challenging.
We started the year in good shape, with pretty much average rainfall through March. April was dry. April is usually the second-driest month each year, with an average of 2.94 inches of rain, but I recorded only 1.2 inches of rain for the month.
This dry trend continued into early fall. By the end of September, I had gotten 23.58 inches of rain compared with 35.5 in an average year. That's a foot below where we should have been.
On Oct. 8, we had 3.9 inches of rain, the first what I call good rain (more than 1 inch) in two months. October totaled 5.95 inches. Then November brought a deluge of 11.3 inches.
October and November are usually dry, with 5.88 inches of rain in an average year, but I got 17.25 inches, three times more than normal. December took care of the rest of the deficit we had been in for the year, and even gave us a surplus.
When we look back on 2008 years from now, we will think it was pretty much an average year, but it was far from it. If only we could spread that rain out over the course of the year, particularly during the summer.
Other gardening matters in '08 got off to a pretty normal start. In a February column, I reminded everyone they should not have their lawns aerated during the winter dormant season, because it really doesn't do any good at that time. Aeration of the grass should be performed during the active growing season. The ideal time would be May through June.
In June, the turf disease Take-all patch was again wreaking havoc on lawns, particularly in St. Augustine grass. Symptoms of this disease are circular to irregular straw-colored to light brown thinning patches 6 inches to 3 feet in diameter. Integrated pest management is the best approach to preventing and controlling Take-all.
Because it was hot and dry, there was also a problem in St. Augustine lawns with chinch bugs. They almost devastated my backyard, even though I treated four times during the summer.
Far too often, people sit back and do nothing, and before they know it, several patches in their lawn are dead. Stay on top of chinch bug problems during hot, dry springs and summers. Unfortunately, it seems chinch bugs may be becoming immune to some of our insecticides.
During the summer, many lawns were suffering from a lack of water. Numerous homeowners thought they had a disease when it was simply dry spots.
In August, I wrote about beetles killing pine trees because the heat and drought. No tree is immune from attack but the pines most subject to attack are typically those that are inferior, drought-stressed or injured.
By August, dogwoods were also suffering from the heat and drought. A common problem was leaf scorch. It causes browning on the margins of the leaves and indicates that leaves have lost water faster than it can be obtained from the soil. This happens most often when trees are planted in open, sunny areas.
In August and well into September, plants, cars, patio furniture, etc. were covered with a black, sticky, sooty mold, a parasitic fungus growing on honeydew. The culprits were the Asian wooly hackberry aphids on hackberry trees. Populations of these pests vary from year to year, and this year the population was high. These aphids are small white insects that just seem to float in the air.
It's hard to believe another year has come and gone. Maybe 2009 will be uneventful, but I am sure we will continue to have some of the same problems we do every year. Who knows, we might even have something happen that has never happened before. Augusta is known for that. But that is what makes my job interesting.
Happy New Year!
SID MULLIS IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA EXTENSION SERVICE OFFICE FOR RICHMOND COUNTY. CALL HIM AT (706) 821-2349, OR SEND E-MAIL TO SMULLIS@UGA.EDU.