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You Can Still Garden During A Drought!

By employing water conservation techniques, homeowners and green industry professionals can Farmer looking at the dry sun conserve our water resources while keeping their gardens and landscapes green.

This article is reprinted with permission from Connecticut Green Industries, a non-profit group representing over 1000 CT companies that grow, sell, deliver and install plants and flowers.  Originally written for Connecticut gardeners, gardeners most anywhere can find something of value here!

Here are some water-wise tips...

  • Plant the right plants in the right spots- shade plants for shade and sun-loving plants for a sunny area. Don't put a thirsty plant in an area where you know you're going to have to water it constantly. Plants planted in the wrong place are the first to get hurt in a drought. 
  • Avoid planting thirsty plants in areas of your landscape that are windy; constant winds take moisture away from a plant and the soil. 
  • Group water-hungry plants together; group drought resistant plants together. 
  • Use native plants in your landscape- they require less care and water than ornamental varieties. 
  • Know your soil! Does it retain moisture or does it dry out quickly? Is the soil heavy in clay or rocks and gravel? Again, plant the right plants for the right soils in your yard. If you have an area that you notice is often wet, plant thirsty plants there. 
  • Help your garden soils by using mulches, which dramatically reduce water evaporation from soils. In tough dry times, increase the mulch layers to 3-4 inches thick. Also consider mixing water-retaining amendments to your garden beds, such as peat moss or any of the water-retention soil amendments available at your garden center. 
  • When using mulch, be sure your trees, shrubs, and plants have a basin of mulch around them. When things are dry, the water tends to run off quickly and not soak down into the soil. Creating a basin around plants holds the water in until it has an opportunity to soak into the ground. 
  • Don't fertilize or prune. Your plants should not be encouraged to grow and both pruning and fertilizing can encourage new growth. Fertilizers are salts, and without much water, the salts can build to harmful levels. 
  • Remove any dead or weakened plant tissues to avoid secondary problems. 
  • Employ the shade strategy! Does your landscape have shade trees strategically planted to give partial sun to your gardens? Scientists have shown that shade trees help retain moisture and cool your home and your landscape-  by as much as 20 degrees during the highest heat of the day. 
  • Raise your lawn mower cutting height- longer grass blades help shade each other, cut down on evaporation, and inhibit weed growth. 
  • Consider reducing your lawn and grassy areas in favor of more creative gardens, such as those that use more stone and drought-resistant perennial plants that have deeper root systems. Ask your nursery or landscape professional about using the new elegant paver block systems to create a patio or walkway. 
  • Dress up your garden. Since your garden may not be at its best, consider adding some items that add ambience: benches, wind chimes, colorful flags or wind socks, boulders or stonework, sculptures, or pots to name a few. Your garden center has these. 
  • Weed-out your garden! Weeds compete with your plants for water. 
  • As a general rule, plants with gray or silvery foliage are the best drought-tolerant. They have fine hairs on their leaves that shade the leaf surface. Also consider using succulent plants (Yucca, etc.).

Watering...

  • Use recycled water whenever you can. "Recycled water" includes rainwater collected from rooftops, cooking water, or any other water that has not been used for human or animal use.
  • Prioritize your watering!   Some plants need more water than others...

FIRST: Trees, shrubs, or perennials planted recently, expensive specimen plants, or plants that are especially important to you should get the focus of your watering attention.

SECOND: Shallow rooted plants like azaleas, rhododendrons, hollies, birch, dogwoods, and blueberries should be your second priority. Watch them for signs of stress.

THIRD: New lawns should come next. Grass seed is cheaper than most landscape plants.

FOURTH: Annuals, container plants, and vegetable gardens may be your last priority.

FIFTH: Established trees, shrubs and perennials can surprise you with how long they can go without water.

  • Consider installing an irrigation system that waters the right areas, at the right time, in smaller amounts for maximum conservation. Seek the guidance or assistance of a professional landscaper, irrigation contractor, or garden center professional to help you. These systems are probably best used between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. and may be a lifesaver for your plants. 
  • Avoid sprinklers that only scatter water in the air inefficiently. Professionals use drip irrigation, special hoses or pipes that dribble water slowly directly to a plant's root systems. Use the flat soaking hoses to water your garden. 

Useful Drought Action Links

There are two national drought information networks currently online, though I'm sure there are some local resources:

National Drought Mitigation Center

The U.S. Drought Portal

Drought-Tolerant Plants

Here is a listing of drought-tolerant plants, categorized by their location in your yard... sunny, partially sunny or mostly shade:

Annuals (sun)

Ageratum
Alyssum
Amaranth
Angelonia
Annual Baby's Breath
Celosia
Cosmos
Creeping Zinnia (Sanvitalia)
Dianthus
Dusty Miller
Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana)
Gazania
Geranium
Gloriosa Daisy
Lantana
Marigold
Melampodium
Mexican Sunflower
Nasturtium
Petunia
Phlox
Portulaca
Salvia
Strawflower
Sunflowers
Verbena
Vinca
Zinnia

Annuals (part shade)

Ageratum
Alyssum
Begonias
Annual Baby's Breath
Dianthus
Dusty Miller
Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana)
Melampodium
Nasturtium
Phlox
Blue Salvia
Spider Flower (Cleome)
Verbena

Perennials (part shade)

Corydalis
Creeping Phlox
Daylilies
Dianthus
Epimedium (Barrenwort)
Ferns: Dryopteris, Osmunda
Pellaea & Pteridium
Heuchera
Hosta
Lamium
Liriope
Pulmonaria
Purple Coneflower
Santolina
Verbena

This article is reprinted with permission from Connecticut Green Industries, a non-profit group representing over 1000 CT companies that grow, sell, deliver and install plants and flowers.

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