The Drought of 2012: How to Keep Your Garden Alive

The Summer of 2012 is one for the record books. No rain with extreme temperatures over 100 degrees. Is it possible to keep your garden alive? Yes, it is- just read my blog!

So we’ve all have heard it by now.  July was the hottest on record.  It was miserable, we had virtually no rain and our gardens and landscapes are looking pitiful.  Have you given up and walked away from your beloved gardens?  I sure hope not.  Saturday’s totally unexpected, (and unpredicted- why do the forecasters make so much money when they get it wrong?) and amazingly wonderful ½” rainfall felt like liquid gold.  The last long-term weather report I heard states that we’re expected to be stuck in this drought and heat cycle until October.  After that, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.  Sit down.  Grab a popsicle.  I have a few tips to help you through the summer of 2012.

The statistic that hit me the hardest is from Chip Tynan.   Chip is the “Answer Man” at Missouri Botanical Garden.  He has decades of horticultural experience and is the expert on all things garden related.  So, when I heard him say that we’re losing ¼” of water from our landscape every day that is sunny and 100 degrees, I sat up and took notice.  Even if you have a sprinkler system, you just can’t replace that daily loss of moisture without running a manual sprinkler as well.  So begins my first tip.

RELY ON YOUR MANUAL SPRINKLER IN TIMES OF DROUGHT-You might be wondering why, if you spent so much money on your sprinkler system, that you need to water manually as well. If the atmosphere is taking ¼” water a day from your landscape, your sprinkler system can’t make that up.  My personal sprinkler system has 13 zones, if I allow each zone to run for 60 minutes, it would be running more than half a day.  Every day.  I guarantee you that it would be difficult to have enough water pressure to take a shower, run a load of laundry, or wash dishes.

To conserve water, I water my turf less than I water my trees, shrubs and flowers.  The turf will perk up and green out when we get back to normal (whenever that might be!) rainfall.  If trees and shrubs are without water in this heat, you just might lose them.  In fact, one of my established White Pines just bit the dust.  Remember, the best time to water your turf, trees, shrubs and plants is early in the day.  I set my sprinkler system to begin its run at 1am.  It’s finished by 5:30am, just in time for my husband to take his morning shower.  If you’re an early riser, begin setting your manual sprinklers at the break of dawn.

BE ESPECIALLY CAREFUL TO MONITOR TREES AND SHRUBS THAT ARE NEWLY PLANTED- Newly planted doesn’t mean this year.  Trees and shrubs even 3 or 4 years old might not have deep enough root systems to gather and hold moisture.  Running a hose at a slow trickle for a few hours will perk up trees and shrubs that look puny.  Be especially mindful of plants like Hydrangeas, Dogwoods, Red-Twig Dogwood and others that look wilted at days end.  A great way to efficiently water a row of trees or shrubs is to lay a soaker house.   My good friend and gardening buddy, George, has a lovely row of the prettiest pink Rose of Sharon.  The bed is narrow, but long.  A soaker house runs the entire length of the trees; it can run for 24 hours with the water turned on low.  Leave the hose in place and you’re ready to water when the need arises again.  Low and slow is the best way to water!

IF YOU HAVE A LARGE YARD OR A LARGE AMOUNT OF PLANT MATERIAL, PURCHASE A TALL, TRIPOD SPRINKLER- These are wonderful!  They have telescoping legs, which makes them easy to store when not in use.  They throw a large amount of water and the sprinkler head is adjustable, allowing for a high or wide water throw.  Plus, I just love the “tick-tick-tick” sound they make!  Home Depot has them for about $38 dollars.  They’ll last for years, and they’ll keep the kids cool and entertained for hours!  It can cover twice or triple the amount of area that a regular, oscillating sprinkler can.

WATER YOUR CONTAINERS AND HANGING BASKETS TWICE A DAY- Water early in the morning to give your plants a jump-start on a hot day.  By 5pm or so, give them another drink.  By doing this you’ll prevent dried, scorched leaves and keep your plants from the inevitable stress that the heat causes.  Recently, I began fertilizing my hanging baskets and containers weekly.  Previously I was fertilizing every other week. I am watering so much, and I want the annuals to continue to look good, so I am bringing on the fertilizer.  “Fertilizer Friday” happens weekly now, not every other week.  I am NOT fertilizing my perennials or shrubs for fear of stressing them further.  Fertilizing in this type of heat is a debated topic among gardeners; some never fertilize in the heat because they think it stresses the plants even further.  I just want my annuals to look good on my pool deck.  After all, they are annuals- they’ll by history by fall.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO CUT BACK WITHERED, BURNED OR DEAD STEMS, LIMBS OR LEAVES- It’s inevitable that you’ll have dried, charred leaves or blossoms.  Tidy up your plants by cutting the offending foliage off.  You’ll make the plant prettier, plus you’ll be forcing new growth.  Hydrangeas, especially the Mopheads, really benefit from this.  I removed all the crispy flowers from mine; I am now noticing some new blossoms being formed.  I just might have another flush of beautiful blooms by early fall!  Ditto for the Annabells’s and Limelights; after being trimmed I am getting new growth at all the plant nodes.  This will encourage a more busy appearance.

IF YOU ARE PLANNING ON A LATE SUMMER VACATION, ASK A NEIGHBOR OR FRIEND TO WATCH YOUR PLANTS- Nothing is worse than leaving town when the sun and temperatures are high.  Ask a trustworthy, knowledgeable friend or neighbor to water every day or so.  Push your containers together, making them easier for your friend to water.  Make sure that the hoses are accessible and you have a watering wand attached to them.  Additionally, if you have a sprinkler system, place hanging baskets in trees for the sprinkler to take care of.  I have a collection of Orchids that summer out of doors.   They spend all summer in my Magnolia tree, getting hit by the sprinkler head.  I never worry about them getting enough water; I only need to fertilize them occasionally.  Make sure to bring your “Plant Babysitter” a nice gift from your travels and they’ll be inclined to help you out next year, too!

A LAYER OF MULCH OR COMPOST GOES A LONG WAY IN RETAINING MOISTURE IN FLOWER BEDS AND UNDER TREES- Moist mulch will hold water, releasing it slowly.  It’s a great soil amendment, too.  Plus, it just looks so darned pretty!  

FINALLY, TAKE PHOTOS OF THE PLANTS THAT WORKED REALLY WELL IN THE DROUGHT OF 2012 - All of my Coleus, Salvias, Lantana, Verbena, Asclepius, Cuphea, Pentas, Euphorbia Diamond Frost, Angelonia, Supertunias and Sweet Potato Vine are going gangbusters.  Think about purchasing drought tolerant annuals next year- just in the event next summer is a doozy, too!

My last tip has very little to do with gardening in this years drought.  It has to do with keeping deer out of your gardens.  I have been experimenting this year with deer repellants at Longview Farm Park.  To date, we’ve had 12 weddings in the gardens- it’s become so popular for brides who are having small weddings.  This year I took the advice of horticulturalists much brighter than me- I began to alternate spraying of deer repellents.  Each Friday I am either fertilizing or spraying susceptible plants in an effort to reduce damage.  I use Liquid Fence, my old standby, one Friday and fertilize afterwards.  The next Friday I use a hot pepper spray.  The third Friday I only fertilize.  Then I repeat it all.  This is the first year in 3 or 4 that we have blooms on our Annabelle, Mophead and Oak leaved Hydrangeas.  The deer would just mow them down.  I doubt that it’s happenstance- any other year by early August we would be without blooms on any of the Hydrangeas.  This year, it’s a totally different story: It seems to really be working.  You can buy hot pepper spray at most local nurseries.  I have never seen it for sale at the big-box stores.

I hope these watering tips help you get through this summer- it’s one for the record books!. 


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kalen Ponche August 06, 2012 at 07:57 PM
I never realized you should trim dead dried leaves off- I've got quite a few!


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