Combating drought in the garden

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Fermi
Fermi's picture
Title: Member
Joined: 2010-03-03

Mark,
a 100% ban is pretty tough but virtually what we have at our place as we aren't on reticulated or "town" water! We collect all our own drinking water via the roof and it's stored in a couple of large (5,000gal) tanks. Water off the car-port roof is collected in smaller (11,000L) tanks which was all we had to use last year when the house tanks ran dry! We now also have a bore pump for watering the garden but prior to that water was in very short supply for the plants!
In Melbourne and many country towns watering was restricted to two hours twice a week but people eked out their allocation by saving shower/bath-water, the second rinse off the washing machine (also important to use a low sodium washing powder!) and even the water from rinsing the vegetables before cooking! As a Physio (read "Physical Therapist") I was constantly treating older clients who had strained their backs or shoulders from lugging around buckets of "grey water"!
cheers
fermi

Fermi de Sousa,
Central Victoria, Australia
Min: -7C, Max: +40C

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

Fermi wrote:

Mark,
a 100% ban is pretty tough but virtually what we have at our place as we aren't on reticulated or "town" water! We collect all our own drinking water via the roof and it's stored in a couple of large (5,000gal) tanks. Water off the car-port roof is collected in smaller (11,000L) tanks which was all we had to use last year when the house tanks ran dry! We now also have a bore pump for watering the garden but prior to that water was in very short supply for the plants!
In Melbourne and many country towns watering was restricted to two hours twice a week but people eked out their allocation by saving shower/bath-water, the second rinse off the washing machine (also important to use a low sodium washing powder!) and even the water from rinsing the vegetables before cooking! As a Physio (read "Physical Therapist") I was constantly treating older clients who had strained their backs or shoulders from lugging around buckets of "grey water"!
cheers
fermi

Fermi, your water situation certainly puts it all into perspective!  If we had more than one summer in a row with dire drought conditions, I suppose many of us here would start getting serious about water conservation measures, and as gardeners, work hard towards improving soil conditions, mulches, and planting techniques (along with plant selection) that would be more in tune with  surviving drought.  But next year who knows, I could be starting a new topic called "combating excessive moisture in the garden".  However, the prediction is that we're going to start seeing longer spring-summer seasons and more frequency of drought conditions.

When I think about soils, that is much of the problem.  The location where the Leucosceptrum stellipilum is planted, is an area I filled over a 15 year span of time with plant debris, leaves, etc, the soil is basically the result of composting all those years, and it 1-2' deep of light porous organic soil.  If there were more clay in the soil, I think water retention would be better. 

In other spots, the silty fines in the soil become unwettable, especially when such soil is on a slope, water just runs off.  Must try to create flatter or terraced planting to mitigate water runoff.  For some collapsing plants, I'm now hand watering in an attempt to salvage them, I am digging a small hole just above the plant on the slope, then pouring water into the hole, allowing the water to permeate.  Here's a photo of Paeonia japonica and Carex appalichica, where I dug a hole behind each and will be pouring water into the holes.  Some parts of my garden are earmarked to be redone, because they are so problematically dry.  I need to find a good amenable home for Carex appalachica, it's a fine-leaved beauty when growing in a spot it likes:
http://www.google.com/images?client=hp&expIds=17259,17315,23051,23628,23...

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

Skulski wrote:

Well done - it looks like that was accomplished with very little disturbance.

Off topic, but... Leucosceptrum stellipilum looks like quite an interesting thing to try - terrific if it would bloom early enough here to avoid being frozen off (and, as always, assuming hardiness, of course).

Lori, there are a number of Leucoceptrum varieties kicking around, including some variegated leaf forms, and a yellowish flowered species, L. japonicum.  Leucosceptrum stellipilum has pink "bottle-brush" type of fuzzy wands very late in the season.  Can't readily find pics from more recent years, but here are two photos of a younger plant flowering early November 2006.  Perhaps these flower too late for your climate?

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

Seems to be working, watering once a day, pouring the water into the submerged 2-liter soda bottle drip-irrigater, and the Leucosceptrum stellipilum plant has perked up quite well, as has the thirsty Heucherella hybrid growing right next to it.  Next step, I'll be submerging two of these drip-irrigaters around a large plant of Kirengeshoma palmata, which always droops from insufficient moisture.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

It is interesting to see how some plants adapt to drought, some are surprisingly drought resistant.  One of the very common deciduous azaleas grown in New England is the old cultivar 'Girard's Fuschia', a very good bone-hardy selection that grows wider than tall.  In summer, it typically goes through a phase where the foliage gets thin and chartaceous (papery) and turning an olive brown color.  None more so than this hot and dry year, it appears to be a moisture-conservation measure, and if one looks closely, the center-most tips and leaf buds are still green.  I like the effect, sort of a shimmery silver-tan-olive veil, rather than leaves turning yellow and dropping as so many other plants do.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

Howey
Title: Guest
Joined: 2010-05-17

Hi Mark:  Am giving this pic another try - it isn't exactly "adapting" but appears to survive in spite of drought conditions.  Others with bluish leaves - Glaucium, Atheonema and Dianthis - do OK as well.  Anyway, here it is, sans species name.  Fran

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

Howey wrote:

Hi Mark:  Am giving this pic another try - it isn't exactly "adapting" but appears to survive in spite of drought conditions.  Others with bluish leaves - Glaucium, Atheonema and Dianthis - do OK as well.  Anyway, here it is, sans species name.  Fran

Fran, is this a prickly poppy or Argemone?  Very nice!  Is it long-lived for you, or short-lived as many poppies or Papaveraceae seem to be?  I may have to begin altering the types of plants I'm growing, to better fit the more likely possibility of droughty summers in years to come. 

It is worth mentioning some of plants in my garden that are water hogs, and go limp at the slightest wiff of drought.  These include Cimicifuga (I only grow the Japanese simplex/ramosa and various cultivars), Kirengoshoma palmata and koreana, Anemone tomentosa, Deinanthe, many (most) Thalictrum, although Thalictrum minus 'Adiantifolium' is a smaller beauty that seems completely drought tolerant, Primula kisoana, Paeonia japonica, Hydrangea serrata varieties.  Other plants seem affected by the drought, but are using survival methods, such as shedding some leaves, to survive.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

That's great, Mark, but don't over do it (not that you are).  If the plants get used to the extra moisture, compared to living on the edge, they might start growing too much and requiring even more water.  Although in your case, I doubt that you will ever have such a problem this season.  With such a drought like yours, any excess water (if there is such a thing) is surely being immediately sucked away by the surrounding soil.

I will bet that many of us have observed that after a week of rainy days, plants have grown disproportionately more compared to "regular" days.  The first intensely sunny days after the rainy week plants often droop, even when the soil is amply moist.  The roots need to grow back into balance with the foliage.  Essentially the same phenomenon, root/foliage balance is key.

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Howey
Title: Guest
Joined: 2010-05-17

Yes, I should have known it was Argemone but was so anxious to try the picture work that I didn't realize my error.  And yes, it has been very long lived and the flowers just keep coming through August.  Believe you spoke of a Bore (well).  Neighbor of mind has a Sand Point well - dug down only 28 inches through the basement floor to reach water.  Now, while the rest of us have dry drooping plants, his large edible garden is thriving - and it's legal too.  Is a Bore well drilled through clay?  Fran

Sellars
Sellars's picture
Title: Member
Joined: 2009-12-29

Fran:

A well can be drilled through clay but a gravel/sand layer below is normally required to get sufficient well yield.  Our water supply is from a well so we are not subject to City water restrictions.  Even then it is hard to keep up with the watering in a large garden in a dry summer. We keep the vegetable and rock garden areas well watered; the woodland areas get a bit and the grass we allow to go brown.

David Sellars
From the Wet Coast of British Columbia, Canada

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