Saving Your Thirsty Garden

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A drought is bad news for plants, but by using your resources wisely, you may be able to salvage part of your garden.

That's the advice of Judy Glattstein, garden consultant and author of Flowering Bulbs for Dummies as well as five other gardening books.

When resources are limited, don't water your grass, Glattstein suggests. It may turn brown but it will become green again as soon as it rains, with no real harm done.

When there are water restrictions, refrain from dousing your annuals (plants that last for only one year). They have to be replanted next year so why waste water coddling something that's going to die.

Save the water for your perennials, plants you have been growing for several years and want to keep, she says. Glattstein waters her container plants, placing them by the front door. These are plants she has had for years and takes inside every winter.

In a severe drought such as this when her lawn dries out, it is reassuring to have one area, the entranceway to her house, kept nice, she says. The lawn may be a disaster but her doorway looks good.

Trees and shrubs are critical. They are the backbone of your garden, according to Glattstein. What you have invested in trees and shrubs is time. If you lose them, you say goodbye to all the work put in over the years.

Glattstein has these tips for conserving water:

  • Mulch on the ground keeps the ground moist but be sure the ground is damp before you put it down. If the mulch covers dry ground, it will take much more moisture to dampen it when the rain comes.
  • Weed first. Why waste whatever water you have nourishing something you don't want to grow.
  • Be thrifty with water. When washing vegetables or fruit, save the water. If you have a dehumidifier in the basement, save the water. You also can put a bucket in with you when showering.
  • When you plant, add lots of organic matter to the soil to help retain the moisture. You also should have a rain gauge or keep a record to track how needy your plants are.
During a drought, it's important to water infrequently but when you do water, soak your plants heavily.

She also recommends a water breaker, an inexpensive item that screws onto the end of a hose, dividing the stream into many smaller ones so the water does not flow with as much force and doesn't damage plants and soil the way a plain hose can.

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