There are quite a few of us who are really in need of some rain, and there are a few, lucky gardeners, who were able to catch some timely rain before this heat descended upon us.
For those of you who were not lucky in the rain department, you are like myself and have started to really work on keeping plants watered and watered well. Until this past week or so, I had rarely watered anything other than my potted plants, so I considered myself lucky.
It seems that the ground can drink and drink and drink water right now. Even so, the flower gardens seem to be doing OK and considering that there are many places where trees are still dying from last summer's tough conditions, I think most plants can hang in there until the rains come again if we play things smart.
Watering your plants first thing in the morning or early evening is the first step in the right direction. There are some really great timers out there that you can choose up to several hoses to run off of one timer and direct it to the place that you need to water the most. Or set it up to rotate to different areas of your garden during the week, hardly any extra work at all!
So how do plants respond to water stress? The plants produce a hormone called ABA signals the plant to close the stomata on the leaves (found on the backside of most leaves). These structures closing help the plant to reduce water loss through its leaves. A prolonged drought will therefore affect plant growth by reducing the plant's capacity to regulate its temperature.
The plant, with less water, will experience a nutrient deficiency, which causes a reduction in photosynthesis. Young and recently planted trees and shrubs are more susceptible to death from water stress. This is mostly from the lack of a root system. And grass, as most of us know, will go dormant.
You can also choose more drought-tolerant plants to help you reduce the amount of water that you might need in your garden in the first place. There are the typical annual plants, such as geraniums, marigolds and zinnias.
There are quite a few perennials that will work as well too such as asters, black-eyed susans, catmint, cranesbill, daylily, false blue indigo, gayfeather, globe thistle, hostas, lamb's ears, little bluestem, pasqueflower, peony, primrose, Russian sage, salvia, stonecrop (sedum) and other various sedum plants, wormwood (Artemisia) and prairie dropseed. The plants listed are mostly those that like to be in full sun with some that will tolerate partial shade.
The blessing of grass going dormant is that you don't have to spend time or money on mowing. Young trees, shrubs or new planting (even new grass) should be watered thoroughly as needed. The deeper you water these new plantings and then allow time to pass between watering will help the plant to establish root systems to help them survive the next drought period. Light watering will encourage shallow root systems to develop, allowing problems later on when a new drought occurs.
Diseases will often also occur within two years on trees, shrubs and some perennials after a drought has occurred. This leaves us wondering if the disease was there at that time or if it was caused by the difficult growing conditions that were occurring previously. The weakened plants are then susceptible to the pathogens that are present within the plants environment during that time. So, if you are not sure whether to water or not, it is easy to just plan on watering perennials, trees and shrubs at least once a week until Mother Nature provides us a good soaking rain.
Do you like to garden and are willing to share your knowledge with the public? The Lyon County Master Gardeners are recruiting new members the month of September.
Training includes an online program with scholarships available. Contact Carol at (507) 428-3495 or Stephanie at (507) 828-5754 for further information.