Adapting Gardens to Changing Weather
Challenging weather conditions may make it difficult at times to grow a lush green garden, but that shouldn't stop us from gardening. Rather than give up something we enjoy, we simply have to adapt.
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Challenging weather conditions may try our patience, but they shouldn't stop us from gardening. Rather than give up something we enjoy (and reaping the significant health benefits in the process), we simply have to adapt.
A wet spring, long and cool, then the heat returns with long dry summers — sound familiar? Water is a limiting factor when it comes to gardening and there's nothing to suggest that the situation will improve dramatically long term. Water woes continue in parts of New England, in the Midwest and through much of the South.
Installing a costly underground irrigation system that's designed to pump thousands of gallons of water onto thirsty landscapes is not "adapting." Irrigating cool-season turf grasses, when they'd prefer to go dormant, wastes money, resources and time. Irrigating shrubs and trees makes a little more sense, if the system is designed correctly and really waters the roots and not just the surface of the soil.
"Sustainability", the newest trend among gardeners here in the Northeast, captures the spirit of the earth-friendly gardening movement. But it's playing to mixed reviews.
Some gardeners accept sustainable, water-efficient landscapes as a challenge. What can we do to maintain a beautiful garden with fewer resources? Others, who view unlimited water consumption as an inalienable right, equate "sustainable" with "sacrifice." Resistance among gardeners in this group is high.
Because water restrictions have temporarily eased in some areas there's less incentive to conserve. But, really, it makes this season the perfect time to plan — and plant — for lower maintenance in the future.
Whether your garden is large or small, dividing the beds into categories — low maintenance vs. high maintenance — will help you prioritize water use when the time comes.
Low maintenance beds are virtually self-sustaining. Drought tolerant species such as spruce and pine (use dwarf varieties if space is limited) can provide evergreen interest.
Small trees such as amur maple, hawthorn, Japanese tree lilac, smokebush and goldenrain tree are practically indestructible. Once established, none of them requires supplemental watering.
Pair these with self-sufficient shrubs such as leatherleaf viburnum, fernleaf buckthorn, broom, quince, juniper, kerria, mountain laurel, beautybush, potentilla, bluemist shrub, sumac and gray dogwood.
Ornamental grasses and drought tolerant perennials such as catmint, yarrow, blanket flower, lambs ears, sedum, salvia, verbascum, epimedium, yucca, symphytum, and brunnera add color and texture to low maintenance plantings. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), a lovely evergreen groundcover, will grow in near-desert conditions if the roots remain well-drained in winter.
Many herbs hail from dry regions of the globe. Try lavender, ornamental oreganos, thyme, sage and germander in low maintenance plantings.
The key to successful sustainable landscapes is thorough soil preparation. No surprise there. Well-amended soil just holds more water. Planting now, when there's enough water to go around, assures a sufficient water supply to give new plants the moisture they need to get started. If spring brings adequate rainfall, roots systems should be fairly self-sufficient by the end of next season.
Rely on a thick layer of organic mulch to retain moisture, provide weed control and gently nourish sustainable plantings.
Situate low maintenance plantings furthest from the house or available water source. Higher maintenance beds — vegetables, annuals, and moisture-loving species — belong close to the house. Containers, which need to be watered as often as every day or two, should be within easy reach of a hose bib.
Dragging hoses is a pain, but quick-couplers, hose caddies and hiding places for extra lengths of hose help reduce the time required for this disagreeable chore.
Whenever possible, use drip irrigation to deliver water directly to the roots of thirsty plants. It's not perfect — no irrigation system is — but in sustainable landscapes efficiency and wise use of scarce resources win big points and save money.
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