When you think about it, plants don’t require much to grow. They need some source of nourishment in terms of vitamins and minerals; they need sunlight; and they need water. That’s about it and, for the most part, any halfway capable gardener will be able to provide the necessary sustenance.
However, there is a condition that no amount of greenthumbedness can prepare you for; drought. For the purpose of this article, we will be defining a drought as an extended period — between two to four weeks — without significant rainfall; a scenario that can happen anywhere in the country.
When droughts do happen, as a gardener, you have to be ready to battle the forces of nature. If you want to ensure that your glorious garden makes it through to the point where the rain begins to fall again, then you need to ensure you are taking care of the following…
Water in the evenings
One of the best ways to maintain your garden during a drought is to ensure that you switch your watering schedule to the evenings. The reason for this is simple science; if you water your garden during the hottest times of the day, then the water is going to evaporate far faster than it will during the hours of darkness. To make the most of your watering efforts, switching to evening watering is the best idea.
If you don’t like the idea of creeping around your garden with a watering can at 10pm on a summer’s evening (and no one can blame you for that), then switch to as late as you are prepared to go– anything is better than watering during the heat of the afternoon.
Protect from shade
It is worth noting that not all droughts come accompanied with hot, baking conditions. This is common, but not necessary; it can be gray and overcast for weeks on end, but a lack of rainfall still means that a drought establishes itself.
However, it is far more likely that drought conditions will go hand-in-hand with warm, sunny weather. If this is the case during the drought you are experiencing, then provide as much shade protection for your most beloved plants as possible. Sunlight is good for plants, but too much sunlight and too little water can signal imminent health catastrophes.
Your plants need to conserve as much water as possible during a drought period, so try and provide [amazon_textlink asin=’B00LBUO22K’ text=’adequate shade’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’mygardening411-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’440ea3cf-e658-11e7-9cb2-e35f16415f94′] for anything that sits in direct sunlight. Ideally, you want to shade plants three days out of seven, so they have time to recover from their exposure.
Mulch boost and treat
Mulch is a wonderful way of helping to protect the roots of your plants from drying out. Ideally, mulch should be slightly damp to the touch, or applied after watering. Your goal is to use the mulch to prevent water evaporation; you will need to clear the mulch away when the wetter weather returns.
Protecting your lawn during a drought is more difficult; grass has a tendency to brown and wither if it is not receiving sufficient water, but you can’t mulch the entire lawn. If possible, water your lawn with a product such as Seasol that is designed to help water penetrate right through to the root zone. You don’t want to do this too frequently — not least because of the cost of water — but the occasional treatment will keep your lawn in decent shape.
Given that some droughts can last for months, you don’t have to forgo fertilizing entirely for the duration, but you do have to reduce your usage. Fertilizer is extremely beneficial, but it also contains concentrated nutrients that a plant that is dehydrated may not be able to cope with on a regular basis. It’s also worth noting that fertilizer is used to boost growth, which makes the plant larger, and thus in need of more water– not ideal during a drought.
If the drought has been forecast to break relatively soon, then leave the fertilizer until the weather has stabilized. For longer duration droughts, try not to fertilize more than once a month– it’s just not necessary, and could even cause harm.
Don’t sow or plant directly into soil
Finally, it is important not to try and sow any new plants or shrubs during a drought period. This includes seeds, saplings, young, and mature plants. To establish themselves in new soil, plants need to have access to a huge amount of water. This allows for effective root growth or, in the case of seeds, germination in and of itself. If you try to plant during a drought period, there is a very high chance that the plant will fail to thrive.
For longer drought periods, things are more complicated. California, for example, saw a drought period that lasted for over three years— are you really not supposed to plant anything new for that length of time?
The truth is… ideally not. You will probably find that maintaining your existing plants is more than enough to keep you busy during a drought. If you feel you must plant something during an extended drought period, it’s far safer to use container plants such as lavender or even corn, as you can more closely monitor these to ensure that they are coping well with the conditions.
If you do decide to plant directly into soil, then it’s important you establish a rigorous watering regime to ensure that the roots have the best chance of survival in the adverse conditions. You never know, you might get lucky, but try and keep your expectations low– drought is not the time to be planting expensive plants, that’s for sure!
If you can keep the above in mind during a dry spell, you can be confident that your garden will make it through unscathed. Your plants will be delighted when the heavens do decide to open, and your garden will quickly return from its dehydrated state to all of its former lush glory.