Tag Archive | drought

Dealing with Deadly Drought

It feels like we haven’t had any significant amount of rain for over a month. The ground is hard, the grass is crackly, and all living things droop their heads in this heat. I could run up my water bill to shocking figures, or I could work with what I’ve saved in my rain barrel.

In times like these, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the long term and give rationed water to the most important plants. Annual flowers and vegetables will be history by winter, no matter what, while expensive and slow-growing items like Japanese maples should be once-in-a-lifetime purchases.

It’s tempting to try to rescue the neediest; yellow-leaved plants with hanging heads are heart-wrenching, but plants already stunted by drought are the least likely to thrive later, even if they do survive. It’s better to water things that are OK but just a little peaked. And don’t forget that spring-flowering shrubs like lilacs start building next year’s blossoms as soon as they finish this year’s show. They need water to do it, so don’t let appearances deceive you into shortchanging them.

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Smart watering using soaker lines to put the water right at the base of the plants

If possible, water whole areas rather than single plants. Dry soil wicks moisture away, so spots watered in isolation are surrounded by the enemy. Select the few healthiest tomatoes and peppers, give those all the water they need, and let the other vegetables go. Your crop will be smaller but better tasting (it takes a lot of water to make good fruit). If you’re determined to save annual flowers, shear them back. If rain comes, they will rapidly put on new growth and a burst of bloom.

And, remember, sprinklers are not the best way to water your plants. Water that lands on leaves is not absorbed. It evaporates before it reaches the ground, as does some of the water thrown into the air by a sprinkler. Watering the soil at the base of the plants really is more efficient. Even if there are no summer droughts to cause watering restrictions, it makes sense to conserve by watering effectively.

It is best not to water in the evening because leaves stay damp much longer, and damp leaves are a terrific breeding ground for many fungus diseases. The smartest gardeners water at dawn or in the early morning. With the whole day ahead, any water that does land on leaves has a chance to evaporate long before sunset.

Finally, let’s do away with the myth that water drops on foliage will burn the leaves in bright sunshine. Water droplets do magnify a bit, but not enough to even warm the leaves, let alone burn them.

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Drought Tolerant

We’re entering winter and our green thumbs are itching to find a project, especially as the garden catalogs start filling the mailbox. What a great time to spend some time looking at your existing gardens and finding the weak spots! Do you have an area with little or no water so you’ve ignored it for too long? How about spending some of this long winter planning a drought tolerant garden?

Just because you’re designing for low water requirements doesn’t mean you can’t mix up the colors and textures just like you do with your other flower beds. Also, be sure to factor in various bloom times and plant height to provide interest and beauty across the growing season.

As with any garden, well-drained soil is a key to a successful garden so, if you’re stuck with compacted soil, dig compost into the bed before planing so the roots can grow deep. Though you may need to water it weekly to get it going (maybe the whole first year), plants with well-established roots will be better able to withstand drought.

Plants to consider that will provide height, texture, and color variety:

Don’t let lack of water deter you from having color and butterflies to enjoy all summer!

 

 

Drought Tolerant Plants for Wisconsin Summers

As I write this, we just had two major rain storms pass through the area — one of them bringing high winds and doing a lot of damage. However, having lived through Wisconsin summers, I know there is a high likelihood that we may see little or no rain through July and August. If that’s the case, you’ll want to have these plants in your garden because, being native Wisconsinites, they’re used to living through droughts!

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Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) prefers well-drained sites in light to medium shade. Hummingbirds love this flower.

If native plants are chosen to match your conditions, they will thrive with minimal watering where others fail. To gain the full environmental benefit of lower water usage, it’s absolutely necessary to choose the plants that thrive in the conditions at your location. All native plants are “water-wise” to some extent, but to maximize their full potential, choose those naturally adapted to your specific conditions — soil, sunlight, and moisture.

Native plants create a naturally balanced ecosystem. When you plant natives in the landscape, birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators will soon follow. Because these plants and animals evolved together over thousands of years, they have developed interdependent relationships. Monarch butterfly caterpillars safely consume the toxic sap of the milkweeds. Karner blue butterfly larvae rely solely on leaves of wild lupine. Fritillary butterflies need violets for their larval food source. These are only a few of the necessary relationships between our native flora and fauna. The variety of species that even a small-scale native garden attracts is often amazing!

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Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) is tough and beautiful! As other plants die off during a drought, Rudbeckia retains its beautiful colors.

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Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) grows 3 to 4 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some additional species to try in your garden:

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    Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) grows 3 to 5 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.

    Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

  • Sky Blue Aster (Aster azureus)
  • Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
  • Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
  • Smooth Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
  • Prairie Blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya)

 

I Love, Love, Love Lavender!

With visions of Heathcliff on the moors gathering fragrant bunches of heather and lavender, I’m swept up every time I use one of my lavender-scented soaps or walk through my garden and brush against the fragrant blooms of my lavender plants. I didn’t always have success growing the lavender, though. For a while, I had one as a houseplant until I overwatered it and sadly had to add it to the compost pile. Then, I had a couple in my garden that lived but didn’t thrive until I finally decided to do some research on why I was failing so often with this beloved plant.

Enter ‘The Lavender Lover’s Handbook’, a badly needed and now heavily well-worn gift from my daughter-in-law who knew of my love for the plant. This book, by Sarah Berringer Bader, has been a primary reason for the turn-around of my plants from surviving to thriving.

First of all, though, let’s talk about why you should include lavender in your garden:

  • it’s absolutely beautiful with foliage that ranges from various shades of green through gray-green to silver. The flowers come in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white so versatility is huge!
  • the fragrance is incredible and, when dried, the flowers last long into the winter
  • grown in the right spot, very little to no care is needed. As long as the spot has full sun, good drainage, and plenty of room to spread out, you can focus on plants that require your attention. Lavender will take care of itself, thank you very much!
  • lavender attracts a range of pollinators — the good ones that not only pollinate your garden but also eat the pests you don’t want! Watch carefully on a sunny day and you’ll find bumblebees, honeybees, butterflies, ladybugs, and praying mantises drawn to this delightful plant.

There are many, many lavender plants from which to choose so you’ll want to do your homework to make sure you’re ordering or buying a plant that will thrive in your growing zone. Because lavender is exceptionally drought tolerant, it’s a great addition any area of your garden where watering is a problem. Consider combining it with other drought-tolerant plants like Achillea millefolium (yarrow), Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Gallardia grandiflora (blanket flower), and Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan). The purple / yellow combination of these plants will make a beautiful garden area.

Lavender and roses love growing together as well (see prior blog post here) and makes less work for you! While roses attract aphids, lavender attracts aphid-eating ladybugs. Roses do want more water than lavender, however, so you’ll want to mulch the roses to retain water. The flowers from both lavender and roses can be gathered and dried, but here’s where my skills leave me — utilizing the flowers for teas, soaps, baking, sachets, and crafts. However, with both purple and white lavender in my garden along with some beautiful yellow roses, I’m planning on learning these skills!

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Garden a little bedraggled?

If summer’s heat and drought conditions (at least at my house) have your garden hanging it’s head, perk things up with some tips for keeping borders beautiful even when stressed.

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Goldenrod, Black-eyed Susans, Joe Pye Weed are all drought tolerant plants

Watering makes a HUGE difference. Keeping plants watered is essential for a good-looking garden, but it can turn into a chore when temperatures are high and it doesn’t rain. Save yourself time and money with these watering tips:

  • Easy irrigation – a simple soaker hose is one of the most basic ways to irrigate. Lay a porous hose down on your garden, and it’ll weep water onto the soil. Because you’re applying moisture right at soil level, there’s less loss due to evaporation. Cover your hose with a couple of inches of mulch to protect it from the sun’s UV rays and help it last longer.
  • Check your irrigation system to make sure all zones are programmed, then turn it on only when it’s needed.
  • Sometimes it’s easier to water with a hose. Avoid dragging it all over the yard by grouping containers together.

Stop weeds and drought stress. Plants that aren’t stressed by aggressive weeds or lack of moisture are healthier and bloom longer with more flowers. Ideally, you’ve mulched in spring, but it’s never too late to put some down.

  • One of the best things you can do to keep plants fresh in summer is to apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of some type of organic mulch. If it’s looking a little thin or matted down in your garden, use a leaf rake to fluff what’s there and top it off, if needed.
  • If drought stress has already affected your annuals or perennials and you notice brown and crispy flowers or foliage, go ahead and cut off what’s damaged. Sometimes the whole plant looks bad. In that case, prune all the dead-looking stuff out. Make sure there’s enough mulch and water so the soil stays evenly moist for the rest of the season. Many perennials will start growing again from the crown in a week or two. Some plants, such as bleeding heart, will go completely dormant, but grow again the following spring.

Get rid of spent blooms. Deadheading often — even daily — will keep your garden looking its best. You’ll get a faster repeat bloom and avoid unsightly spent blossoms hanging around. Deadheading encourages your plant to produce more flowers and store energy for winter instead of forming seed heads. In fact, some people don’t like the look of hosta blooms so they cut them off below the foliage as they emerge.

Heat stress and lack of water can make plants susceptible to pests and disease so keep a close eye on your plants and act quickly if you spot trouble!