Gardening: Is parched the new normal?

In the temperate rainforest, it's so dry the cedars are dying

  • Jul. 30, 2015 6:00 a.m.

By Mike Lascelle

contributor

I knew we were in trouble when I walked out to the pond garden at work and found the normally moist beds scored with deep cracks typical of a parched soil.

Where we would normally contend with excess moisture, which our Nishiki willow tree happily lapped-up, dead shrubs and scorched perennials became the new normal.

Of course, we are not alone in this dry dilemma and with Stage 3 water restrictions in place, I think that most of us have accepted the fact that we are indeed in the midst of a bonafide drought.

And with the long-term weather forecast predicting a hot and arid August, we had better learn new ways to cope with our drier gardens.

On a municipal level, the cities on each side of us are coping in different ways.

In Port Coquitlam, where European chafer beetle has taken a terrible toll this year (possibly accelerated by the heat) with many decimated lawns, the city has been encouraging residents to pre-order and purchase nematodes (for a late July application) as a natural control instead of using banned pesticides.

Unfortunately, they have also rescinded the necessary water permits (nematodes travel through water in soil pores) as the Stage 3 water restrictions came into place, so we can expect that pest to spread extensively next year.

I was also listening to the mayor of Mission, Randy Hawes, on a CBC radio program about the drought comment that he was going to try to exempt their turf sports fields from the watering restrictions because the cost to taxpayers to replace them would be exorbitant.

He also stated that he wanted residents and businesses to be able to water cedars located near buildings, as the dead plants posed a high fire risk.

I totally agree with him on that latter and it only takes a quick glance at any townhouse complex or commercial site here in Maple Ridge to find totally crisp, brown cedars just sitting there, waiting for a careless cigarette butt or spark from a vehicle to propel them into flames.

As a landscaper, I have seen many a dry cedar torch surrounding buildings and it surprises me that so many stratas, landscape maintenance and management companies don’t seem to take this risk seriously, especially since the solution is as simple as removing the dead material (replacement can be done at any time).

Perhaps this is a matter for our local fire department to educate us all on.

Of course, this warm, dry weather does have some benefits as evidenced by the bountiful crops of heat-loving vegetables such as cucumbers, squash and tomatoes.

My daughters harvested huge bulbs of Russian garlic, and judging by the many zucchinis passed onto my wife, there is no shortage in that department.

Tomatoes have been ripening earlier and the larger beefsteak or heirloom types show a lot of promise, as these longer crops are usually cut short of their promise by late blight. But by the time it arrives this year, I think many of us will have enjoyed hearty slices of ‘Brandywine’ or ‘Black Krim’.

There is also no need to feel helpless in the face of this new weather phenomenon, as local garden centres are now featuring drought resistant perennials and shrubs with an eye to the future.

We can also adopt the old practice of planting in the fall, as the soil is still warm (allowing for rooting) and the rain usually takes care of the watering, making newly planted material more drought resistant when they face their first summer.

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (hebe_acer@hotmail.com).

 

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