The last two weeks have been kind to our gardens with abundant rains (see image above) and recent mild temperatures. The weather - for the most part - has not only been good for the plants but also good for working outside. If only it could stay like this all summer!
We know too well that warmer days are ahead and rains will be erratic. I was surprised to some commenters on this blog already talking about the need to water though. While I have nothing against watering when needed, I do like to avoid the chore if possible. Methinks it’s a good time to look at some ways to maximize the moisture we get during the course of the summer.
Lawns are probably the quickest sink for moisture. If you are going to plant seed this fall, look into drought resistant varieties such as Tall Fescue, Zoysia and Buffalo varieties. The fescue is probably the best all-around choice for our area. Zoysia tends to go brown quickly outside of summer and Buffalo is not a good choice if you have acid soil.
For all lawns, it is a great idea to aerate the soil once a year, which really helps the turf to absorb water better. Another great way to improve moisture holding ability is to spread a fine layer of compost across the turf. It will incorporate into the soil and aid in moisture retention.
We have discussed some plantings that tolerate dry spells so I thought this would be a good time to give a comprehensive list of what I consider the best of the best. I won’t go into excruciating detail about them but will happy to discuss any of these plants in more detail if you have an interest or question.
Bulbs that are most tolerant of dry conditions include daffodils and allium. For spring flowering perennials, look into geraniums (not grandma’s pelargonium!), euphorbia, evening primrose and Lenten rose (hellebore). Summer blooming perennials that are outstanding are daylilies, coneflowers and yucca. In the fall, go with salvia, sedum and asters. Annuals that are drought tolerant are cosmos, portulaca, verbena and marigolds.
Shrubs that are stalwarts in handling dryness include forsythia, butterfly bush (Buddleia), St. John’s-wort (Hypericum), junipers, euonymus, spiraea, clethra and mock orange. Drought resistant trees include birch, redbud, golden rain tree (Koelreuteria), smoke tree (Cotinus) and Japanese Pagoda tree (Sophora).
I have a hill (or berm, as I have heard it referred to) in my yard and it was a watering nightmare. I made is much less a chore but digging a shallow depression into the top of the hill to better collect quick rains and allow them to soak in. I also worked subtle terraces in to the sides of the hill to slow the runoff as well. Those two steps - which took no more than an hour - have really made a difference in slowing the runoff and subsequent dry down. If you have a significant slope, consider some intermediate barriers like an edging of some sort to help slow the runoff.
Another moisture zapper is fertilizer as most are made up type of mineral salts. A good bet is to use slow-release fertilizers like “Osomocote” or better yet rely more on an annual addition of compost.
Well, that about covers my ideas for the upcoming dry spells for now. Feel free to comment on your tricks so we can all benefit! Until our next time, happy gardening.