ANTICIPATING DROUGHT

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ANTICIPATING DROUGHT

            When I was
growing up in a rural area in western New York State, some of the farmers used
to say that drought came in eleven-year cycles.  This was not as bad as it
sounds.  To my knowledge the area never suffered through eleven consecutive
years of disastrous water shortages.  The theory was simply that eleven
years of relatively dry summers would be followed by eleven years of
comparatively wet summers.

            I am sure
that meteorologists have long since discredited this kind of folk wisdom. 
Besides, non-farmers have a hard time remembering what the weather was like two
summers ago, let alone seven or eight years back.  Still, having a formula
for anticipating some kind of dry spell means that farmers and home gardeners
can prepare for it.  There is something to be said for that.

            Several
pundits have predicted that the coming summer will produce another drought. 
That being the case, now is the time to think about drought-survival strategies. 
At the moment, all the gardeners I know are ordering from catalogs.  In
about three weeks the great rush to the garden centers will be on.  If you
are buying new plants, consider their water needs.  Some plants, such as
hydrangeas, rhododendrons, astilbes and many roses are absolute water hogs. 
If you want to install them, make sure you get them in early and mulch them
thoroughly.  In fact, if you can afford it and have the space, call the
local garden center right now and have a load of mulch delivered.  It’s
easier than lugging all those bags, and the mulch will be ready whenever you are
planting or working on your beds.

            Consider
investing in soaker hoses for irrigation.  These “leaky pipes” are
usually made out of recycled materials, and can be laid on top of mulch or
underneath it.  Water passing through soaker hoses goes directly to plant
roots without excess waste and evaporation.  If the projected drought
results in a ban on hose use, check with your municipality about whether soaker
hoses are allowable.

            Just as
mulch is invaluable for its insulating and moisture retaining properties, so is
any kind of plant that covers the ground.  A dense planting scheme, with
plants close enough together so that bare soil does not show between them, helps
keep moisture in.  However, this can be a problem if you are installing new
perennials and need to provide for future expansion room.  Fortunately
annuals can do the job while you wait.  California poppies (Eschsholzia
californica) provide a happy “hot” note in the garden.  In my
experience, marigolds, either the screaming yellow and orange varieties, or the
more subtle hybrids, work well in dry situations, as do portulacas.

            If you are
developing a new planting scheme, try to pick at least some drought tolerant
varieties.  This is when it helps to have a book or catalog that can tell
you where various plant genera and species originated.  This may be an
excellent time to install that herb garden that you have been thinking about for
years.  Many herbs are native to warm, dry Mediterranean climates, and a
little drought (or even a lot) will not faze them in the least. 

            Group
plants together according to their water needs.  It makes watering easier
and faster, especially if you end up having to do it by hand for several weeks. 
If you have to move around some established plants in order to do that, this is
the time.  Their roots will be well-established when high summer arrives. 

Think about the colors that you like, then select drought-tolerant varieties
accordingly.  If you want something in one of the currently fashionable
purple shades, try blazing star (Liatris spicata) or one of the various
cultivars of lavender.  The latter thrives under drought conditions in the
summer, and when dried, improves the odor of your linen closet or underwear
drawer in the winter.  What more can you ask?

            Members of
the salvia family are generally a good bet for hot, dry weather.  You can
get the time-tested annual scarlet sage (Salvia splendens), or invest in one of
the blue, pink or white flowering perennial varieties.  Yarrow (Achillea)
comes in a wide variety of colors, survives water shortages nicely and looks
lovely dried in winter arrangements.

            Remember
that drought has been around since the beginning of time, and no one yet has
thought of a way to prevent it.  Think of it as a challenge, and sow those
portulaca seeds now.

 

 


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