Re­think­ing gar­dens in a time of drought

The Progress-Index - At Home - - GROW SMARTER - By Dean Fosdick

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 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...

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...

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