It’s been very hot and sunny the last few weeks and although the weather has been perfect for a day at the beach, it’s resulted in extreme dry conditions in the garden. The extended drought has left my newly planted perennials and shrubs gasping for moisture and it’s also been difficult to start establishing the fall crops in my vegetable garden.
I’m also trying to be eco-conscious and not waste water unnecessarily. Therefore, I’m limiting any irrigation to the early morning hours before the sun rises too high. If you water at mid-day, evaporation will claim much of the moisture before it can bring relief to your plants. If you can’t water early in the morning, the second best time to water is in the evening.
When watering, concentrate on the plants that need it the most. For example, newly planted perennials, shrubs and trees will benefit from a deep weekly watering if there has been no rain. Avoid watering lightly as that will only encourage roots to grow at the top of the soil, leaving the plant susceptible to future droughts. Also, any just-seeded vegetable beds (Now is the time to plant carrots and kale for fall and winter!) should be kept moist until the seed has germinated.
Once the soil has been saturated, a mulch of straw or shredded leaves can be applied to vegetable beds, or layer of bark can be placed around ornamentals to help lock in soil moisture, keep the roots cool and prevent pesky weeds. Even a topping of compost or aged manure on just-watered garden beds will help keep plants (and earthworms!) happy.
We may not agree on this point, but when summer hits, I advise folks to forget about the lawn. It does drive me a bit nuts when I see a sprinkler turned on - always around noon - blasting water onto a patch of grass. Turf, especially Kentucky Bluegrass will naturally go dormant in the heat, but green up once moisture levels increase. At the same time, avoid fertilizing your lawn during the heat of summer as it can also contribute to lawn browning if there has been little rain.
Another source of water is the ‘grey water’ from your house. It can be collected and used to water your containers and gardens. For example, leftover cooled water from boiling vegetables or the cold water that is allowed to run when waiting for the water to heat can be used to irrigate plants. To help reduce the amount of water I need to give to my potted gardens, I like to tuck my containers and planters close together. By snuggling the pots up tight, the foliage shades the pots and helps prevent water evaporation, which reduces the overall amount of water they will need.
Assuming that hot summers may be a trend, consider adding drought tolerant plants to your garden. Look for plants with silvery or grey leaves or succulent foliage, an indication that a plant can handle the summer heat. Hardy perennials like sedums, catmint, coneflowers, ornamental grasses and daylilies are all great choices for sunny gardens.
Top Drought Resistant Plants:
Ornamental Grasses - I really can’t say enough good things about ornamental grasses. They’re drought resistant, but also virtually pest and disease free - even the deer don’t touch them! There is a wide range of species, sizes and colours and many produce pretty bottlebrush-blooms or panicles for added interest. My top picks for summer are maiden grass (Try ‘Gracillimus’, ‘Gold Bar’ or ‘Morning Light’) but I also love feather reed grass ‘Karl Foerster’, a knockout plant with upright growth and long-lasting summer flowers.
Catmint ‘Walker’s Low’ - With its silvery grey leaves and non-stop supply of purple flower spikes, catmint keeps both the bees and hummingbirds happy all summer long. This cultivar grows much tidier and more upright than other varieties and happily takes the summer heat.
Daylilies - Daylilies are perhaps the perfect perennial. Not only are there more than 80,000 cultivars - in a huge range of flower colours, sizes and shapes - but they bloom for 4 to 12 weeks and are disease, insect and drought resistant. Check out the locally bred beauty, ‘Pride of Canning’ at Canning Daylily Gardens, which has over 1700 cultivars. They welcome visitors all summer long and can be found online atwww.canningdaylilygardens.com
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show that airs every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm on News 95.7 FM. For more info, please visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.