- Author: Karen Metz
After two years of markedly low winter rain totals, we again find ourselves praying that the coming winter brings us abundant amounts of water. Our hillsides attain that bleached wheat color in July instead of September. Our reservoirs are low or empty and we wonder when watering restrictions will be mandated. Fires rage and race over the countryside all over our state and others in the West.
I looked back in the files to see when I had last written about gardening and drought. It was in 2015. At that point, I had let the lawn in the front yard die and did not plant the usual spring vegetable garden in our raised beds in the backyard.
After the rains came, we did replace the front landscaping with drought-tolerant plantings that have done very well. In general, you don't want to rip things out and replace them during a drought. New plantings, even drought-tolerant ones, need water as they become established.
There is still much we can do now. Weed without mercy; each weed is in direct competition with your plant for any available water. And weeds are champion competitors. Apply mulch as this helps the soil retain its moisture and helps suppress. Just remember to keep the mulch at least three to four inches away from the central stem or trunk of your plant to avoid promoting disease or rot.
Avoid watering in the heat of the day when you will lose moisture to evaporation. Avoid watering with sprinklers during a windy day or you are more likely to water your driveway than your plantings, at least here in Fairfield. Make sure your system is functioning well without leaks or blown emitters.
Look for additional sources of water. Catch water in a container in the sink or shower as you wait for the temperature to warm up. We use the water we drain off after cooking pasta or soaking air plants. And we collect the water that forms from condensation from the air conditioner compressor. It does add up.
I am also reducing my propagation of new plants. Most of the time if I prune or divide a plant I'll try and create starts for new plants to pass along to others. Now I am only going to do that if I have someone in mind who I know wants the plant. If water restrictions are imposed, I don't want to have a lot of extra, surplus plants to deal with.
Continuing along that train of thought, I have started mentally placing the plants that I have into a sort of hierarchy. On the definitely keeping end of the spectrum are plants that have great meaning and sentimental value to you. Examples would be a plant inherited from a departed relative or one planted in honor of the birth of a child or a big anniversary. Other considerations would be plants of great monetary value or rarity or gardens that are feeding your family. Likewise, mature specimens that take a long time to achieve that status should be considered to be of higher priority. Trees that provide shade, oxygen, and sequester carbon are prime examples.
So, what is on the low end of the spectrum? Plants that are inexpensive, short-lived, and easy to locate and grow quickly. In other words, they are easy to replace. Plants that you have many duplicates of. Perhaps also plants that don't do well in our climate to start with.
It won't be easy if we have to let plants die. Most gardeners find it very hard to give up on a plant. How many of us have had plants in “intensive care”, trying to bring them back from disease or mistreatment? Thinking it through ahead of time may help. We can always console ourselves with the thought that those we cannot keep can at least be put in our compost piles. And in so doing will help improve our soil and the lives of future plants.