Posted at 10:49 AM ET, 04/19/2012

Drought sneaks into D.C.’s eastern suburbs, weather doesn’t have to wither gardens

Percent of normal rain last 90 days (top) and drought map for Maryland (bottom) (Great Plains Regional Climate Center, top, and U.S. Drought Monitor, bottom)
It is hard to believe that we have been slipping into a drought in mid-April, but here we are. There is at least the chance for much needed rain this weekend. But if we miss out, then we are nearly guaranteed to fall below 50 percent of normal for the year next week. As you can see in the map to the right, we are not alone.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows drought conditions have officially commenced from Baltimore due south into Southern Maryland, including eastern Prince George’s county and counties along the western shores of the Chesapeake Bay. East of the Bay, the drought has turned severe. (Northern and central Virginia - not pictured -are abnormally dry, but not yet in drought).

A spring drought is a bit sneaky since it is hard for us to think about watering yet and yet we must.

If you have trees, especially ones transplanted in the past 2 or 3 years, they need a good soaking unless this weekend is a drencher. Run a hose and let it run at a slow clip under it for 15 to 30 minutes if you can.

The problem with trees is that you can’t wait for them to show drought stress. If you do you are likely to have either a dead tree or one that is severely crippled. When it comes to other plants we can be a little more flexible in our planting and take advantage of some naturals at beating the dryness.

Just taking a tour of my garden this past weekend was a real eye opener as to some very common plants that hold up quite well to dry conditions. One of my discoveries was that plants that have denser root systems seem to hold up better. Part of it may be the water stored in these bulbs, tubers and rhizomes but they also have stored nutrients to supply to the plant when water transport from the soils is difficult. Of course, the most glaring example of this is all the tulips and daffodils that are blooming as happily as ever.

I only recently started planting these bulbs after a few years’ hiatus. I have to tell you the selection out there is tremendous. By selecting early, mid and late varieties you can have a blooming season that starts in late February with crocuses and snowbells, and runs through May with late tulips and allium. Just as those give up the ghost, the lilies kick in and they bloom from June to August. I tuck these beauties in every nook I can find. They are just about trouble free and withstand the dryness like all those bulbs.

Irises (David Streit)
Bulbs are not the only drought beating game in town. Some of the plants from our childhood were grown for just that reason. Iris is a prime example, (photo here) having a dense rhizome that grows along the surface. Peonies and day lilies have thickened tuberous roots that help them survive those dry spells much better than thinly rooted plants. In fact, cultural researchers looking for old farmsteads can often locate them by looking for beds of day lilies still going strong long after the structures are gone.

The huge variety of day lilies has something for just about everyone. My only pet peeve is how the market has been overrun by the Stella d’Oro type normally referred to as reblooming. It seems like more than half of the offerings are reblooming. I totally understand wanting a long bloom season but what I most appreciate about the more traditional ones is that their plethora of blooms that occur in about a three-week span. The rebloomers are just so much wimpier blooming. Even if it goes on all summer, it just isn’t eye-popping like the more traditional. OK, off my soap box but if you have similar strong feelings, let’s talk about it!

One more tuberous plant you may not be as familiar with is the Acanthus, affectionately known as “Bear’s Breeches”. They have a long history and in fact their leaves are chiseled into stone adorning ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The blooms come in summer and are a little like snap dragons on steroids. The spikes of blooms are about a foot or more tall and the blooms last nearly a month.

What are your favorite plants for holding up to the dryness? We need to know!

By  |  10:49 AM ET, 04/19/2012

Categories:  Latest, Gardening, Droughts, Local Climate

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