Gardening when it’s dry: prepare the soil, select plants wisely
Is your summer a summer of drought? There is then no need to sit back and accept what Mother Nature offers – you can lessen the impact of dry weather on your garden.
It’s time to start preparing for dry conditions long before they happen, but plans made now will help in the long run.
Preparation begins with the ground. Any type of organic material – leaves, straw, peat moss, compost, manure, sawdust, grass clippings – mixed with the soil helps garden plants withstand dry spells.
(âOrganicsâ are things that are or once lived.)
And mix these materials into the ground; do not bury them underneath. In sandy soils, organic matter acts like a sponge to hold water.
In clay soils, organic matter will open up air spaces and promote large root systems.
As plants grow, this same organic material is deposited on the soil because the mulch prevents water evaporation.
(Except for peat moss, which dries to form a rain-proof layer.)
Replenish the mulch every year and you don’t even have to dig it. The earthworms will drag it into the soil.
In fact, I no longer dig organic material into my soil. Not for over 30 years.
Almost any material can be deposited on the ground to control evaporation. Black plastic wrap or landscaping fabric is commonly used.
And a friend lines his floor with what else? Carpet!
But these inorganic materials have drawbacks, and do not give soil any of the many other benefits that organic materials do, such as promoting beneficial microbes, helping plants to feed, and improving soil structure beneath. -jacent.
Some plants tolerate drought
Now on to plants: If you live where summers are dry, you might only grow drought tolerant plants. No need to limit yourself to cacti and yucca, however.
Many familiar garden plants are at least somewhat drought tolerant. These include shrubs like juniper, privet, cinquefoil, buckthorn, fern, nine bark, and nannyberry viburnum.
Among annuals, you can choose from cosmos, marigold, nicotiana, portulaca, sunflower, zinnia, and many of those used for dried flowers, such as celosia, gomphrena, straw, and statice.
Drought tolerant perennials include yarrow, butterfly grass, coreopsis, poppies, echinacea, sedum, and baby’s breath.
Ornamental grasses such as pampas grass and blue fescue are also drought tolerant.
Most lawn grasses survive drought well by going dormant while waiting for wet weather, but they are great consumers of water if you want them to stay green.
No need to give up vegetables. Cucumbers, melons, okra, squash and even tomatoes will get along with just enough water to plump their fruit. Drought actually improves the flavor of the tomato.
Using and storing water wisely
Along with the choice of plants, the way you grow them can help alleviate drought.
Reducing fertilizer reduces water consumption because small plants use less water.
Fertilizer can actually worsen drought conditions by drawing water from plants in the same way salty potato chips draw water from your lips.
When your time or water is limited, give water to the plants that need it most first. First, give the vegetable and flower plants and the newly planted trees and shrubs to the water.
Also, aquatic plants that do not tolerate drought, such as lettuce, delphiniums and roses.
Usually when watering, apply very rarely.
“A lot” here translates to an inch of water from a sprinkler measured in a straight-sided container.
This amount is the same if you water by hand, such as three-quarters of a gallon per square foot, once a week.
Alternatively, apply just a little water, but do it frequently. This is the essence of “drip irrigation”, where special emitters automatically drip the water next to each plant.
In addition to descending, water also moves horizontally in the soil by capillary action; it is therefore not necessary that each emitter be right next to a plant.
The more clay there is in a soil, the more emitters can come from a thirsty plant – even a few feet away in clay rich soil.
Supplement tap water with water collected from rooftops in barrels or cisterns, or diverted from your kitchen sink drains.
Compaction of the soil in small collecting basins around trees and shrubs retains rainwater.
Even though the slugs are now frolicking in the humidity and rain, your garden could become dry in a matter of weeks. Be ready.
By Lee Reich