Here's a few pointers for gardeners suffering through a hot, dry summer.
1. Do not water lawns. Grasses naturally go dormant in hot, dry weather, so don't go against nature.
2. Plant okra. This isn't my favorite fruit, but when young and tender there are several interesting ways to cook it. And this is important because okra likes hot weather, and seems to be the one garden item the Phactor has that may do well this season. For some reason, probably because they were filled by dining on broccoli, beans, peas and the like, the bun-buns and woodchucks have left the okra alone. A good surrounding fence may have helped.
3. If you do water plants, water them well. At our last TGIF one of impatient friends, the always in a hurry type, mentioned that even watering her garden twice a day did nothing and the garden looked awful. So how long was she watering? Probably 10-15 mins. And she was using a nozzle on a hose, and almost no one has the patience, or time, to water well using that equipment. Generally a nozzle applied too much water over a small area too quickly providing the illusion that you have watered well when in fact the water is just running off. When instructing amateurs, the Phactor lets them water until they think they have done it thoroughly. Then they get handed a screw driver or trowel, and asked to make a little trench across the area they just watered, and seldom has the water penetrated more than a quarter of an inch. Get a sprinkler and let it run, and the bigger the area you are watering the longer you must let the water run. If you don't notice the difference in your water bill you aren't watering enough to matter.
4. Pay particular attention to new plantings. New plants, those in the ground less than 12-15 months, need special attention in hot, dry weather. If you want to limit water use, then you must concentrate on new plantings or write off your purchases and efforts as losses.
5. Don't prune anything now! You really don't know whether trees or shrubs have died back or just dropped some leaves to in reponse to the drought. Some plants will just go dormant, so wait until next season before doing anything drastic. Of course, a few plants may actually be dead and there are ways of checking for certain, but even then some types of plants will resprout from the base.
6. Put out some water for birds and other wildlife. Yes, be kind to wildlife. Our lilypond is one gigantic bird bath-watering hole, but just a shallow bowl of water will provide lots of relief.
7. Keep your eye on well established plants for signs of stress. When you see a plant looking water stressed, it's a good idea to give it a deep watering. Plants that wilt during the heat of the day, but recover in early evening is probably doing OK. Wilting actually reduces the heat stresss because droopy leaves absorb less sunlight and therefore lose less water through transpiration. If wilted plants do not recover, then water them well. Look for scorched, browing tips and edges on leaves. The Phactor missed noticing this on a witchhazel, and now the leaves are really damaged although the plant will be OK.
8. Perennials that die back are probably OK. Many perennials can and will die back under conditions of drought, and they will probably recover next season, assuming conditions get better. Some ferns, lily of the valley, and wild ginger have all died back, but we're not worried. They will survive. There will probably be a few things that do not survive. The wax bells are a bit of a worry.
9. Ice cubes. No matter how severe the water restrictions, margaritas must be served on the rocks. This is very important for maintaining a proper attitude about weather and gardens. Cocktail hours are exactly for attitude adjustment. For example, one new perennial has flowered for the first time, a nodding onion. Of course this prairie native is plenty tough, but it had been forgotten until up popped the flowers. There are always some bright spots. Now to find a recipe for a gumbo.
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