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Hot and Dry

As I am sure you have noticed, the drought rages on, wrecking havoc with crops, backyard tomato gardens, lawns, and my precious tropicals. Even well-established perennials are suffering and don’t think the trees are immune. Even native trees like the Tulip tree are suffering. Even weeds are getting stressed out. Walk through the woods at 100 Acres and you see invasives, such as amur honeysuckle and euonymus, wilting. Nothing is totally immune from the drought. Consequences are likely even for plants that seem to not be affected at all. Of course, it is not just the drought, but also the extremely high temperatures. If we had only one or the other at least there would be some sort of pressure relief. But alas, neither condition seems to be going away as NOAA predicts the drought to last through October.

How bad is it? As of this week nearly 85% of Indiana is in severe drought or worse. Almost 60% is in extreme drought. Just under 25% is under exceptional drought conditions. 100% of the state is abnormally dry and over 99% is suffering moderate drought or worse. The Indianapolis area is under extreme drought conditions.

If numbers aren’t your thing take a look at this image.

It’s bad. According to Ken Scheeringa (associate state climatologist, Indiana State Climate Office), these conditions are seen once every 50 years or longer. Obviously many of us have never seen drought quite so bad. Nor have many of our plants, not even the trees. Drought affects a tree’s ability to fight insects and disease. Reduced water results in reduced levels of carbohydrates, thus lowering the tree’s energy reserves that are needed to resist attack from those insects and diseases. Expect Emerald ash Borer to ravage even more than usual. All this and so much more is available from the Purdue University Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) site.

We are fortunate at the IMA to have two wells to support our plantings. We of course abide by the rule of soaking plants weekly, as opposed to frequent shallow watering. It is hard to say if we will eventually have to concentrate on saving the woody plants and leaving the perennials to survive as best they can. Since many of our plantings are combinations, watering trees and shrubs inevitably waters the herbaceous plants, so that gives us some wiggle room.

Even with regular watering however, the plants are suffering. You will notice deciduous woody plants dropping leaves, some even showing a bit of fall color. Evergreens can be the trickiest, as they can show no symptoms then suddenly the color is “off.” Once those needles have that grayish cast to them, it is pretty much impossible to turn the situation around. After the much less severe drought of 2010, many folks lost evergreen trees and shrubs. I would expect this year to be considerably worse.

If conditions continue, we home gardeners may have to start deciding who will live or die in our gardens. I know two or three weeks ago I already looked around my garden at home and thought “Who will I save? Who can I give up? Who will get the precious water needed to survive?” Survive. Not thrive. At this point I’m not thinking “pretty,” I’m thinking “alive.” Do you try to save the annuals and vegetables or the trees and shrubs? If you are thinking about that question very long and not coming up with an answer, let me help you. You save the trees and shrubs. The woody plants are the foundation of your garden, even a tropical/annual freak like myself has trees and shrubs to give that design year round substance. But I have not given up on saving everything…… yet.

Rosie Lerner, Purdue Extension consumer horticulturist, has some very practical advice in this video. I think she does a good job explaining conditions and I love that she says optimal, as opposed to you must do exactly this.

And here are some thoughts on turf.

In the meantime, water IF you can but don’t be wasteful. Don’t water if you don’t have to. And take this opportunity to see what is really tough in your garden. You may want to add more of those plants.

Now what I wish we could all do this weekend is……


Filed under: Horticulture

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