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Gardening Tips: Water Conservation During Drought
A month ago, it was looking like we were destined for a wet year to balance off the drought conditions of 2007. We were receiving rain pretty frequently and there was even some concern that it was too much. Some vegetables were having a hard time growing with all the cool, wet weather, and there were some fungal diseases showing up in lawns that we hadn’t seen in a few years, although most trees and shrubs were delighted by all the rain. But the month of June has been much different. Things are very dry and it is starting to look like 2007 again. All but 3 counties in North Carolina are under some sort of drought classification, from moderate to exceptional, and like it or not, I feel I need to write yet another column about water conservation. It’s clear though that this will remain a major issue that we all have to address in some way, gardeners in particular.
There are, of course, many ways that gardeners can conserve water. The first is to simply water correctly. It sounds easy, but it would surprise you how many people simply don’t know the right way to water plants. Watering should be done in the early morning whenever possible, both to limit evaporation and disease development. Watering in the morning ensures that plants will productively use a majority of the water. Also, make sure to water the soil around the plants rather than the plants themselves. Plants take up water through the roots, not through the leaves, so when watering make sure to direct the water to where it can be of best use. This is not really possible if you are watering with sprinklers, but if you hand water or use a drip or soaker hose you certainly can. Sprinklers should really only be used to water lawns; they are inefficient for watering flowerbeds. Finally, water deeply. If you only water each plant for a few seconds, of course you’ll need to water every day; however if you water for longer periods of time, you’ll find the water penetrates deeper into the soil, encouraging plant roots to grow deeply and make them more apt to tolerate periods without water. Newly planted plants will always need more frequent watering then plants that have been in the landscape for several years, but try to water for relatively long periods of time once or twice a week rather than short periods of time every day or every other day.
There are some other things gardeners can do to combat drought, such as beginning to incorporate drought-tolerant plants in your landscaping. It’s important to remember that just because a plant is considered drought-tolerant doesn’t mean it will never need water. These plants need the same period of adjustment when planted in the landscape as any other plant, meaning they will need to be watered frequently for the first several weeks or months. The phrase drought-tolerant simply means that once the plants are established, they will be better able to respond to extended dry periods than other plants. Another way to combat drought is to use rain barrels to capture and store water from rain events, and use that water in the garden later. Rain barrels should be positioned against buildings in areas where water drains, such as under downspouts or along the edge of a sloped roof. A 55- gallon rain barrel will fill from as little as a quarter of an inch of rain depending on its location. When the garden dries out after the rainfall, you can begin using the water in the rain barrel wherever it is needed.
Matthew Stevens is the horticulture extension agent for Halifax County Cooperative Extension. If you have any questions about this article or other aspects of your home gardening, please contact Matthew at 583-5161 or firstname.lastname@example.org.