Gardening: Survival guide for drought

Make sure you're watering your plants the proper way

  • Jul. 16, 2015 2:00 p.m.

I know we have had a couple of days of light rain to relieve the recent heatwave, but the facts speak for themselves – May 2015 was the driest one on record in British Columbia and June wasn’t that far behind.

Add to that the lack of snowpack in the local mountains (the girls and I had to go all the way to Manning Park to get some skiing in this year) and we are looking at a long, dry summer.

The evidence of this everywhere – be it brown lawns, dead trees, scorched rhododendrons or forest-fire-fueled haze filling the valley. Our reputation as the rain capital of Canada is changing before our eyes and this just isn’t a one-off occurrence – it has been going on for the past few years and by the look of things, it’s here to stay.

So what can we do as gardeners to keep our landscapes looking reasonable without breaking the current water restrictions?

Start with the way you water. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to see people out there with a hose giving their gardens just a passing sprinkle on a daily basis.

While well intentioned, this light frequent watering usually doesn’t penetrate to the root zone and often evaporates on the soil surface, making for shallow, drought-prone root systems.

You can change this bad habit by watering less frequently, but longer and making sure the water penetrates by using a garden fork to lightly perforate the soil surface. This will create deeper, drought-resistant root zones and you can further limit surface evaporation by applying bark mulch throughout your garden beds.

Trees can be a little more difficult to deal with, as many of these are plunked right in the middle of the lawn we are not supposed to be watering.

Young trees, in particular, are prone to drought damage. But there is a practical watering solution in the form of a Treegator, or watering bag. This ingenious plastic bag simply zips around the base of your young tree (works up to a four feet in diameter) and is simply filled with the hose, after which it slowly dispenses the water directly to the roots over hours, instead of the minutes you usually spend. This allows for deeper, more effective irrigation.

Pots and containers are another high maintenance watering concern, but you can offset this by moving them into partial shade during the extended drought, in order to reduce plant transpiration.

If this is not possible, consider incorporating water absorbing crystals such as Soil Moist to your potting mix when planting. This polymer amendment literally expands and holds water within the soil media, reducing run-off and making it available to the fibrous root system. The granules come in various sizes and they can reduce watering by up to 50 per cent, so the savings in time alone is well worth the investment.

For those of you on well systems, the problem may not be a will to irrigate responsively, but a simple lack of water as our aquifers dry up.

This is where water storage comes in handy and there are many rain barrel systems available out there, from simple plastic units that are connected to the downspout to large above-ground tanks or cisterns.

While we can’t expect these to meet all of our outdoor watering needs, they can certainly be set-up to drip or micro-irrigation systems to handle nearby vegetable gardens or landscape beds. It may not seem like much, but anything you can do to reduce your dependence on the tap helps all of us.

 

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

 

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