Combating drought in the garden

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

After two nighttime rain showers in the last two weeks, with just a trifling amount of rain, the drought here deepens. Warm to hot sunny days continue day after day, often with gusty thermal winds siphoning away any ground moisture.  We have a total outdoor water ban in effect until further notice, but I must admit to spending some hours filling a watering can in a desperate attempt to save my more prized plants... I feel like some sort of criminal while trying to sprinkle a bit of moisture on them.

A few photos.  My giant clump of Epimedium grandiflorum 'Red Queen', which measured almost 4' wide (120 cm) x 30" (75 cm) tall, has all but collapsed, as have many others... I have stopped trying to water it, just hoping that the rhizomes and roots survive.  Then a couple shots of the crispy lawn, normally thick and green.  Surprisingly, just 50 miles west in Central Massachusetts, the lawns were green and just showed a slight bit of stress and browning, and about 120 miles west in the far western end of the State, the grass was rich and green, so apparently the drought is restricted to a band along the coast; I'm about 60 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean as the crow flies.

It becomes a learning experience observing the effects of drought, particularly with a genus in my garden that's particularly well represented in the garden; Epimedium.  Certain species, and hybrids with those species, show little or no ill effect from the drought (even though not watered), thus can be regarded as drought-tolerant.  Those that still look fine include pinnatum ssp. colchicum, hybrids of it such as x warleyense, and x perralchicum, pubigerum, sempervirens and hybrids of it, and many Chinese species such as brevicornu, saggitatum, ilicifolium, wushanense, lishichenii, davidii, brachyrrhizum, and many hybrids among Chinese species. 

Those that are badly affected by the deep drought include most grandiflorum hybrids and many x youngianum hybrids.  As I have ventured into an Epimedium hybridization program, the drought-tolerance factor becomes invaluable information for breeding drought-tolerant varieties.  A number of three-year seedlings that are crosses between a grandiflorum cultivar and a sempervirens cultivar, look completely unfazed by the drought, apparently inheriting the drought-resistance from sempervirens.  This drought provides some important lessons.

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

Hoy
Hoy's picture
Title: Member
Joined: 2009-12-15

We have the opposit problem here!
Now the rain is pouring down in the south of Norway and it is impossible to harvest crops like wheat.

Trond
Rogaland, Norway - with cool, often rainy summers  (29C max) and mild, often rainy winters (180 cm/year)!

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

Our drought finally ended the end of September, literally just two days of measurable amounts of rain in nearly 4 months.  October saw soem days of prolonged heavy rain, which I am happy about, and then many of those magical Indian Summer days as they are called here in New England, northeastern USA, with breezy crystal clear sunny days and temperatures in the mid 60s, but cool nights into the 40s Fahrenheit.  Some plants displayed an amazing resurrection with the return of rain, others remain nearly leafless but I suspect the roots are alive and the plants will return next year.

One that I'm happy to see resurrected with the rain, documented in this topic previously, is the unique fall blooming mint from China and Japan, Leucosceptrum stellipilum, a plant that fools most people into guessing it is a Hydrangea.  The leaf growth has come back to life, and the bud-wands are now showing, but still a week or more away from flowering, a couple photos uploaded. It's important to get to know such plants, that can grow and flower in shade in the late autumn.

Do I forget about this terrible drought? No, I don't think so, I have learned a lot from the experience.  Now, all future plantings and plant choices will be subject to the learned experience, fully expecting that prolonged droughts and water bans will be more prevalent in the future.

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

Reed
Reed's picture
Title: Guest
Joined: 2010-10-09

Can you buy compost by the yard? Here in Oregon we can buy it by the yard or truck load. I put down a
3-4inch layer of compost with aged steer manure (steer Plus) every fall. We rarely get summer rain and the yearly applications of compost help hold in moisture. It takes a few years to build up the tilth in the soil but it is well worth it especially for the woodland gardens. The plants love all the organics being added back and the black compost looks amazing too.

Albany, Oregon USA. Pacific Northwest, elevation approximately 200ft zone 8. Winter wet and Summer Dry. Hot enough to ripen the peaches.

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

Yes, compost by the yard is available in some areas, but it is rather expensive.  I have opted instead for shredded pine bark mulch, which breaks down nicely, and is more affordable.  This year I ran out of mulch, but did not replenish my supply, as I'm holding most all discretionary expenses while I'm still unemployed (it's been a year).  My neighbor keep horses, so I do have a free supply of horse manure when wanted.

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

Anne Spiegel
Title: Member
Joined: 2010-01-26

Mark, have you tried contacting any of the tree service companies in your area?  That's what I do and most of our front property line has a 5' high continuous pile of wood chips.  Some of the tree people are always looking for places to dump their chips because they have an ever replenished supply.  I just let them rot down.  They're usable as soil in five years and if they're needed before then we run them through the home chipper and dig them in.  They rot very quickly that way.  With the amount of rock we have here, soil is in short supply.

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

Spiegel wrote:

Mark, have you tried contacting any of the tree service companies in your area?  That's what I do and most of our front property line has a 5' high continuous pile of wood chips. 

No, I haven't tried that.  I'm not a big fan of the look of wood chips versus bark mulch.  With our rustic boulder stone wall along our narrow street frontage (my property is narrow but deep), and close proximity of the house and driveway to the street, there is literally only one spot reachable by a dump truck and available for stockpiling landscape material.  If I need bark mulch and sand at the same time, one of those two has to be dumped on the driveway, which is a hardship.  But one piece of machinery I need is a chipper, but that's definitely off the table until I can find a job.

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

Hoy
Hoy's picture
Title: Member
Joined: 2009-12-15

Mark, I would like to focus on that plant of yours, the Leucosceptrum stellipilum. I really like that. Does it need warm summers to do well? I am always at the lookout for new woodland plants. Do you know if it is possible from seed?

What do you mean by "compost by the yard"? A truckload dumped in your front yard?  - Here I can easily buy truckloads of sand, soil/compost etc cheap (always someone digging for something) but the transport is what cost money. I have a chipper too but it is time-consuming work to chip all the garden waste.

Trond
Rogaland, Norway - with cool, often rainy summers  (29C max) and mild, often rainy winters (180 cm/year)!

Lori S.
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-10-27

Trond, a "yard" is an abbreviated term for a "cubic yard".  So, it's the volume of material in a cube that is 36" long, wide and deep.  Landscaping materials are usually sold "by the yard" here.

Lori
Calgary, Alberta, Canada - Zone 3
-30 C to +30 C (rarely!); elevation ~1130m; annual precipitation ~40 cm

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

Hoy wrote:

Mark, I would like to focus on that plant of yours, the Leucosceptrum stellipilum. I really like that. Does it need warm summers to do well? I am always at the lookout for new woodland plants. Do you know if it is possible from seed?

Hmmm, but based on what I observed so far, it likes an open shady spot in good rich humusy soil, and DISLIKES drought, yet seems to recover when from drought to still produce flowers.  It doesn't seem to mind the hot weather, although not sure if that is a requisite condition.  It is just breaking into flower now, but yesterday and today were too cold and gusty for the flowers to make much progress.  I haven't seen seed, possibly because it flowers so late there isn't enough time to ripen... just guessing, I'll try and watch it this autumn.  After being established and growing in the garden for 5-6 years, this year I noticed that some stoloniferous shoots appeared, just a short distance from the parent plant, these will give an easy propagation option.  I think I'll try and detach a few of them next spring.

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

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