Drought Causing Changes for the Muskogee Azalea Festival

The Muskogee Azalea Festival starts in less than two weeks, but with the drought conditions, it could look different this year.

The Muskogee Parks and Recreation Department has been working on the azalea beds. The annual festival is something Muskogee is known for. Some of the azaleas have been around since the 1960's.

Mark Wilkerson, director of Muskogee Parks and Recreation, has been in charge of the plants for the past 25 years. But for the past two years because of the drought they have had to replace a big majority of the plants.

"It's horrible because one of the very important keys is water, because they don't like wet soils but they don't like drought either. So, you have to continually water. Obviously when it's 100 degrees out here for 30 days in a row it's hard to keep water on them. It's a challenge," Wilkerson says.

Wilkerson says the hot weather isn't the only weather condition that is causing them problems. Last year, he says it was a warm March, and then there was a hard freeze in the first part of April where it got down to 15 degrees. The azaleas lost a significant amount of blossoms. But with these struggles, the parks department has learned some lessons.

"It's not just the plants. It's the soil. We spent thousands of dollars and now the crews today are installing pecan hull mulch," Wilkerson says.

Wilkerson says they haven't seen a drop in the amount of people coming to see the azaleas. The festival starts on April 1. Honor Heights Park has also added teaching gardens and a Butterfly Sanctuary. The butterflies will be on display at the beginning of May.