Gardening During a Drought

Gardening During a Drought
Thus far this growing season, most of the eastern U.S. has been blessed with ample rain. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with much of the West. Some areas are facing their sixth year of drought.

Whether we’re in the midst of a drought or are just planning ahead for the dry summer weather that may be ahead, it never hurts to keep a few water-conserving ideas in mind.

For starters, I like to keep rain barrels under the gutters. Though these containers aren’t large enough to store enough water for the entire season, they will limit the amount of city water I need to pay for. These need to be covered to prevent evaporation and deny access to mosquitoes looking for a place to lay eggs.

Mulch is helpful. Make sure your plants are mulched properly. Many people prefer the organic types, while others may use rocks, stone, and brick chips.

If a little is good, then more must be better. No, that isn’t the case with mulch. These days, it is so common to see foot-high piles of mulch around newly planted trees and shrubs. Some gardening experts refer to this as ‘volcano mulching.’ Plant roots must be able to get oxygen, and this isn’t possible when mulch layers are too thick. A couple of inches should do it.

Drought creates stress for plants. When drought conditions are present, never apply fertilizer even if you think the plants need it. In fact, adding it to drought-stressed plants will likely lead to plant decline, and death. Fertilize only if you know you are going to be able to keep watering on a regular basis.

Moisture loving plants will suffer the most from drought. Among these are ones like hostas, rhododendrons, and azaleas. What can you do if your local water system bans outdoor watering? Recycling water is a possibility. In some areas, this practice is allowed.

Recycled water is usually called gray water. For example, the water from a bath can be used to water plants. Chances are you wouldn’t want to use water from the wash cycle of your dishwasher or laundry machine for plants. These contain chemicals. In addition, I wouldn’t use gray water on certain edible crops. There is evidence that plants might absorb harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, through their foliage. For that reason, it doesn’t seem safe to use it on lettuce and other greens, or low-growing fruits, such as strawberries.

When you do water, sprinklers aren’t a good choice. A lot of the water evaporates without ever reaching the plants. Instead, use soaker hoses, and drip irrigation systems that put the water in the root zone of the plants. The soaker hoses are easy to use. Once they’re in place, I just generally leave them there. I have tried moving them from one spot to another in the yard. But it isn’t always practical. Once they are wet, the hoses are heavy and cumbersome.

Should you use the moisture-holding crystals? These are supposed to hold a reserve of water, and release it when the plant needs it. They’re placed in the root zone of the plants. Some experts now say there is no evidence these chemicals really help. In normal times, the crystals may be helpful. But it probably isn’t a good time to try them when your area is suffering from drought.

The best way we can prepare our gardens for drought is to use drought-tolerant species. This is often referred to as xeriscaping.

Even if drought isn’t a serious threat in your area of the country, it still won’t hurt to begin proper planning. When it does strike, be prepared.

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