Rethinking gardens in a time of drought
LANGLEY, Wash. — Severe drought is parching large sections of America, but that doesn’t mean giving up on gardening. Plants can be coaxed through the hot summer months despite severe water restrictions.
“Looking ahead, we expect dry or erratic conditions for plants,” said Weston Miller, a horticulturist with Oregon State University Extension. “Planning landscapes now for minimal watering is the smart way to go.”
It’s safe to allow lawns to go brown (dormant) in summer and then bring them back in winter, he said.
“Maintain the smallest lawn possible, especially if you’re going to irrigate,” Miller said. “If there are some old roses or other plants in your garden that aren’t serving their purpose or died because they weren’t getting enough water, then replant them with plants known to be drought-resistant.”
Drought-tolerant plants pose challenges of their own, however.
“Odds are they’ll die if not watered well that first year, before they become established,” Miller said. “Plant things in the fall when it’s cooler and watering isn’t needed. Then the winter rains (or snow) will come along and provide some help.”
Add plants that thrive in dry summers and wet winters. That would include lavender and sage (herbs), bougainvillea and vitis californica (vines), lobelia and common myrtle (shrubs), buffalo grass and Bermudagrass (turf), among many others.
Use soaker hoses or drip systems that deliver water more efficiently and cut down on evaporation.
“Water in the morning,” Miller said. “Don’t water in the middle of the day, as it will speed evaporation and can burn foliage on particularly hot days.”
Be proactive about watering plants in containers, he said. “Once the soil has dried out in pots, it’s difficult to get it rehydrated. You lose a fair amount of nutrients in that soil, too.”
Some Irrigation Association tips for using less water while gardening:
Mulch around plants and shrubs. That reduces evaporation, limits weed growth and moderates soil temperatures.
Water often and for shorter periods. Setting your irrigation system to run for three, five-minute intervals lets soil absorb more water than watering for 15 minutes at one time.
Hydro-Zone your yard. Group plants with similar moisture needs in the same area, making it easier to ensure they get the water they need without overwatering. Separate plants from grassy areas, which have different watering requirements.
A recent survey of landscaping and garden trends by the homes website Houzz.com found that many new home buyers already are reducing the size of their lawns or removing them entirely.
“It’s surprising how many are putting in synthetic lawns. In California, it’s 1 in 5. I’m seeing a lot of them,” said Nino Sitchinava, the principal economist at Houzz, who lives in Palo Alto.
“Even more people are going back to mulch, which is a traditional approach,” she said. “Other ground covers are becoming more popular than turf grass.”
Shrubs and trees along the periphery of a Langley, Wash., yard have different water needs and need to be irrigated occasionally since they’re not as resilient. A long hot summer can dry the landscape, but lawns can be allowed to go dormant through the hottest months since they usually green up again with the fall rains.
Once the soil has dried in containers like these in a greenhouse in Langley, Wash., it’s difficult to get them rehydrated. Make a splash in a drought-ridden landscape by being proactive about watering — especially with container plants. Be especially vigilant about growing plants in pots during the scorching hot summer months since they tend to dry more quickly than those in the ground.