Gardening: Weather changing way we garden

The severity of this year’s weather has shocked many of us, and now we're adapting

  • Sep. 10, 2015 5:00 p.m.

I know I am not alone in feeling that lately it appears that Mother Earth has an axe to grind with us – be it the summer drought followed the early appearance of autumn, or the windstorm that reminded us that electricity is a privilege that most take for granted.

One way or another, something has to give.

Whether we like it or not, that something is us, we have to change. How we treat this planet – the size of the footprint we leave behind – with our daily lives and on the smallest scale, how we garden.

I think the severity of this year’s weather has shocked many of us, and, judging by the barrage of questions I have been receiving at work, quite a few have already decided to make some sort of change in the way they garden.

So I thought I would share a few of the most common queries along with some advice on potential options.

What do we do about our summer droughts and water restrictions?

I think this year’s early water restrictions were a blessing in disguise, mostly because had we not taken conservation seriously in midsummer. Then those Stage 4 restrictions would have been inevitable, meaning that we would have a lot more dead plants on our hands.

That said, it may be time to put away those wasteful sprinklers and start thinking about drip irrigation systems, rain barrels and watering bags to get us through the drier periods.

The application of bark mulch will also help to retain soil moisture in summer while protecting the roots from frost damage in winter and acting as a weed deterrent.

Should I replace all my drought or wind-damaged trees and shrubs?

Start by recognizing that some plants are prone to drought or wind-damage, as evidenced by all the shallow-rooted cedar hedging that expired over the dry summer.

Similarly, there are many trees such as cottonwoods, willows and black locust (Robinia) that suffered a lot of breakage during that last windstorm and I don’t expect them to perform any better the next time it decides to blow.

You should also recognize that sometimes structural flaws such as co-dominant stems or double-leader trees are more prone to splitting in high winds and try to mitigate these flaws with corrective pruning at a young age.

Additionally, you need to consider drought tolerant shrubs such as smokebush (Cotinus), Christmas box (Sarcococca), Oregon grape (Mahonia) and flowering quince (Chaenomeles) when replacing those badly scorched azaleas and rhododendrons.

Last on my list are the water-hungry lawns and the possibility of converting some of them into low maintenance landscapes using a combination of ground covers, mass-planted shrub groupings and maybe a few taller accents, such as mid-sized conifers.

When is the best time to replant?

This is an important question and, personally, I think that we need to go back to the old-fashioned method of planting in the fall.

The rationale for this includes two root flushes (one in autumn and the other in spring), which better prepare the plant to face its first summer.

Another good reason for larger deciduous trees is that leaf drop means that there is less wind drag on the young plant while it is rooting in.

The last and most obvious benefit to fall planting is that you don’t have to constantly water, as the autumn rains usually take care of this.


Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (