Preparing the Garden for a Drought

Summer is here. The main jobs in the garden are weeding, WATERING and deadheading.

Those of us in the Northeast have been having the mildest summer this GardenLady has ever experienced. July feels like May; the weather is so Springlike.

TheGardenLady has been watching the weather reports for many parts of the country that are having a major heatwave. She does not know how to best advise gardens experiencing 100 degree plus days in your area where watering plants is prohibited.

Contact your local county extension office to see if they have any special suggestions.

There were some things one could do before the drought. Should things straighten out and you want to plant new plants, consider them when you plant.

Water Jelly Crystals by Baok
Water Jelly Crystals by Baok

Water crystals or beads (hydrogels) are sold as a means to help hold moisture in potting media. They can absorb multiple times their weight in water. Usually they are hydrated (beads or crystals are put in water before putting them in the soil) and mixed into the medium before planting. One company that sells this product is Plant Health Care Comapny.

Also when planting new trees on your property, by adding mycorrhizal fungi into the soils this helps young trees cope with the stress of drought. Read all about this in the above link.

But after the drought, the above products are difficult to put into the soil unless a professional has the machine to apply them.

TheGardenLady hopes that you have put mulch around your plants and tress. Mulch helps hold moisture in the soil.

There are natural wetting agent/soil penetrates that when added to water help plants use water more efficiently. These compounds help improve the spreadability and soaking effect of water, even in very dry, water resistant soils. The Plant Health Care Company has one called Yuccah Liquid Concentrate. Remember that this is used WITH water so that the water penetrates the soil to better reach the roots.

Check to see if your state or county allows the use of gray water – water that has already been used for laundry, dish washing or maybe even bath water. Ask which of the gray waters you are allowed to use and don’t let it go down the drain if your area allows the use of this gray water. Collect it and use it for your best plants which includes shrubs and trees. If you are allowed to use the gray water, use it to save your best and/or favorite plants or your vegetable garden. I know that this can be a lot of work especially when it is so hot outdoors. Try to water the plants very early in the morning before the strong sun is up-get up with the birds to do this. Watering early won’t allow the water to evaporate so quickly and will have a chance to get to the roots. Don’t water the leaves of the plants – that is a waste. If you are collecting water and don’t have a lot of it, don’t try to water all your plants. Shallow watering is not good for the roots. The roots will come up to the surface for a drink and the plant won’t be deep rooted.  It is best to choose the plants you want to save and give them a good deep drink.

May 2009 garden prep - soaker hoses by tigermetal
May 2009 garden prep - soaker hoses by tigermetal

If you are allowed to water, get soaker hoses. Soaker hoses water the roots so that again there is less loss of water to evaporation.  The soaker irrigation system is also made in round shapes for trees and shrubs. Tree watering rings can be bought in many nurseries or on line.

Don’t throw out any of your leftover liquids. You make yourself a cup of tea and can’t finish it, the plants would love it. You have leftover coffee in your cup, again it is nutritious for your plants. Sweet drinks can attract ants. So save them and dilute them with lots of water. But don’t throw them out. Desperate times need desperate measures. And in the burning drought those poor plants are suffering. Pour sweet drinks on a plant that is far from a house. And hey, sugar isn’t good for us anyway. So cut back on sweets and sweet drinks. Use stevia to sweeten your drink- the healthier alternative for you and your plant.

When water is scarce, TheGardenLady would not waste the water on the lawn- as beautiful as the lawn is. She would save the plants, shrubs or trees. Yes, trees suffer greatly from drought, so they should be watered. Even the large ones need water.  You don’t want to lose trees because they provide so much. They provide shade to make the heat a little more bearable; their roots hold water should you have floods; they provide food and shelter for wildlife, etc. And if you were to lose a big tree from drought and the stress of drought, it takes much longer to grow back than to grow a lawn.

There are bags called treegator bags with holes in the bottom. They use the idea of drip irrigation. The bags are put around the tree and filled with water which seeps into the roots slowly. You should keep the bag filled with water so that the trees get constant water to their roots. They are usually used on newly planted trees. TheGardenLady does not know how large these bags come or if they can only be used on smaller trees. They are not cheap. As a cheaper alternative someone suggested using an empty bird seed bag- poking a few holes in the bottom- placed in a large plastic pot from the nursery for stability. Fill the bag with water. Water trickles out like the “gator bag”. If possible hang the bag on something near the bush or tree and let it trickle from there.

If you can’t use gray water on your outside you should still save your gray water and not let it go down the drain. If you can save it in a big barrel in your bathroom, use it to flush your toilet so that you won’t have to waste clean, fresh water to flush. In times of water restriction remember the ditty, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” To flush, you now fill a bucket with the gray water from the barrel you saved the water in and pour it in the toilet. When you have poured enough water, the toilet will flush by the weight of the extra water. So you will have saved the clean water that you didn’t use because you didn’t hit the flusher handle.

Good luck to you in the terrible heat wave. Let TheGardenLady know what you have been able to do to keep your plants alive.

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