Last year was quite different in precipitation amounts over the year before when everything seemed to be flooding. It seemed that after February of 2020, the water valve shut off and the rest of the year became quite dry. After winter provided very little snowcover, we are going into the new growing season even drier than before with no relief in sight. Our county has now been listed as a moderate drought situation at this point. So how do we plan for a potentially dry year?
Drought conditions can cause vibrant plants to wilt and cease blooming, and in some cases to wither and die. Some trees and shrubs go into early dormancy and begin to shed their leaves or turn color earlier in the season to conserve on their water supply.
This is the second year in a row that we may have a very dry summer from moving forward. Last fall we did not acquire much additional moisture, so that did not help with plants in the yard going into a long winter. Some plants this spring may fail to thrive due to this event and might struggle by mid-summer.
Moisture-loving plants such as ferns, astilbe, hostas and coral bells may suffer later in the season if we don't make sure they are tended to early. Throwing a little moisture on the gardens now may assist your plants in the long run come the summer months. Be consistent in watering and if it begins to rain, you can shut off the irrigation systems.
There are plants we can add into the landscape that are tolerant of these persistent conditions. Many perennials, trees and shrubs have the physical structures to withstand these dry conditions and continue to do well. Some of the plants have the ability to acquire moisture from their root systems during times when water is difficult to find. Others such as the succulents have a waxy look to the leaves to prevent them from losing moisture during the hottest part of the day. Some plants, such as hosta, dahlia, cannas and peony have thick fleshy roots that store water to be used during the dry periods of the year. Many have adapted to the ever-changing environments in which we live.
Moss roses are a terrific annual to grow during hot summers as their thick stems and leaves eliminate very little water during the day, allowing them to look good the entire growing season. Dahlias are another plant that has thick roots filled with moisture and starch for energy to allow the plant to continue growing and blooming along with thick and shiny leaves that hold their moisture in. Vinca, geraniums, lantana and dusty miller are also great annuals for a dry season.
Many perennials do well in drought conditions such as the coneflower, Russian sage, baptisia, butterfly weed, sedum and penstemon. Many of these have thick waxy leaves or the ability to close up their pores during the day, such as in the coneflower groupings.
Shrubs like spirea are very drought resistant along with cotoneaster, black chokeberry, mock orange, ninebark, Forsythia and even rugosa roses. They all develop a deep rooting structure and have shiny leaves that prevent moisture loss.
There is also a good selection of trees in our area that will withstand drought conditions for a certain period of time. The Ginko, oak and linden are perfect examples of hardy trees for our region. The harder-to-find smoke tree is also a good selection to plant.
Most evergreens are quite resilient against drought conditions as they can absorb a great deal of moisture from the air through their needles. However, if dry conditions persist it is best to give all of your evergreens a deep watering every so often, especially in the fall season if conditions do not change before the harsh, drying winds of winter arrive.
As with any landscape and garden, good plant diversity will keep your color scheme and textures healthy and vibrant regardless of the conditions they are exposed to. The majority of drought-tolerant plants will also thrive in wetter conditions when and if the season changes, so they have dual abilities to survive.
All drought tolerant plants must become established in the beginning in order to withstand dry conditions later on their own. New plantings will always require some nurturing until they can thrive, so always keep this in mind if the environment becomes harsh.
Drought conditions are never an ideal situation in any environment any more than conditions that become too wet and produce flooding. But we can work with the environments we are dealt and create a landscape that works best for our region. As with any season, the following year could be the exact opposite. Time will tell what we are in store for ahead, but like the weather, we must go with the flow and make the best out of each and every situation.