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Gardening in Drought Conditions

By Pat Roome, Master Gardener & ENN Member

What’s wrong with my drooping plant? Did I water too much? Or perhaps not enough? All plants need water; yet some survive with very little, like cactus, while others do best in a marsh. To survive drought, plants use many adaptations to avoid water loss or can store water in their leaves. 

Dead Daisy

Water is lost mainly through leaves, so drought tolerant plants conserve it in many ways. They can have small leaves such as Scotch Broom, blue leaves– wax on the surface- Hebe, or dense hair covering- Lambs Ears. Plants can have shiny leaves that reflect the sun back such as Oregon Grape or thick leaves like Viburnum and others.  Some plants with extensive root systems, like English Laurel, will pick up water from a shower and happily survive. Likewise, plants with spreading roots like clover can keep the lawn green when the grass dies back. Dandelions survive because their roots conserve water.

Plants like Spring bulbs can go dormant in the summer and not need water. Most of our native plants, from spring blooming perennials to Douglas Firs, go dormant in the summer.  Most plants that have been planted at least 3 years can survive without water in our summer if they have a mulch cover at least 2” thick over their roots. A ground covering plant like Vinca. can substitute for mulch if it densely covers the soil

Water your landscape plants as infrequently as possible but make sure that you do it long enough to reach the roots of plants. Check with a trowel; the water should have reached down 6”. Last summer I watered my border of trees, shrubs, perennials and summer bulbs 3 times but for 3 hours each time.


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Proper watering can save money and save your plants!

House plants often die by drowning so water them only when the pot feels lightweight or the top half inch of soil is dry.  When you do water, either leave the pot in a saucer of water for 20 minutes then tip the water out, or if you are watering from a can go back and water again in a few minutes.

 Save money - water efficiently

Save money this summer by watering more efficiently whether it is an overhead sprinkler, a soaker hose or drip system. Don’t water when you are holding the hose - you aren’t patient enough.

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