by Rob Sproule
Drought is a sword of Damocles on the Prairies, ever threatening to swoop in and turn our lawns to burnt straw and our gardens crispy brown. When drought happens, our yards and gardens suffer for it. Here are some tips to mitigate the stress and, at the same time, reduce water consumption in your yard.
For lawns and most perennials and shrubs, an inch of water per week is plenty. Try to provide that water in one or two long soakings instead of daily pass-overs with the hose.
Spread a 2-3″ layer of organic mulch (cedar, fir, etc”¦ but no rocks) throughout your perennial beds. Mulch will do wonders to both cool the soil surface and keep moisture where it belongs.
Avoid overhead sprinklers, especially in the heat of the day (10am to 7pm ish). Most of the catapulted droplets will be sucked up by the dry air before they reach the surface.
Invest in a soaker hose and lay it through your perennials and shrubs. You’ll be able to deep water and, with the mulch insulating, won’t lose a drop to evaporation.
Deep watering encourages plants’ roots to burrow deeper, invited by the soft moist soil. Shallow watering, wherein most moisture ricochets off the damp surface as evaporation, encourages surface roots, which are more vulnerable to changing weather. Make your plants dig for their water; consider it tough love.
When rain is scarce, fertilizer should be too. There’s no sense encouraging plants to grow larger, and therefore needing more water, when there’s none to be had deep in the soil. Without rain to flush away the accumulating salts that build up in the soil, drought-feeding could have the opposite effect.
Give your plants a rest and avoid surgical tasks like transplanting and heavy pruning. As stressed and cranky as the heat makes you, plants have no escape from it.
I can’t say enough about how brilliant native plants are. Not only do they attract more beneficial insects, which are vital as opportunistic pests prey on water-stressed plants, but they rarely need to be watered themselves.
If you’re facing consistent water issues, consider removing some patches of water-thirsty lawn and replacing it with a bed of low maintenance powerhouses. Perennials like Gaillardia, Yarrow and Giant Hyssop not only provide as much colour as more exotic varieties, they also require far less water, no winterizing care and bees adore them.
Lawns & Weeds:
If you read/ listen to me regularly, you’ll know I’m not a fan of lawns. They’re tools to me, to be kept only if used and, if not used, to be replaced with native shrubs or low maintenance perennials that consume less and give back so much more.
I never water my lawn during years with regular rainfall. It browns in sunny spots and thrives in sheltered spots. Where heat spells turn it brown, rain greens it up. Water is precious; during drought years we can do without our lush, manicured lawns for a while. Brown will turn to green again when the rains come.
Set your mower blades a little higher (3-4″) than usual. Long blades, able to store more moisture, will stay green longer and shade/ cool the ground below. A close cut will only make it brown faster.
It’s no fun to pull weeds from dry, hard soil, but it’s important that you do. Thirsty weeds, with their grasping and voracious roots, will steal and water lucky enough to sink into the soil. You’re plants need water more than nasty weeds do, so grab the pitchfork and turn the earth, and try to get as many roots/ rhizomes as possible.