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Too Wet or Too Dry - What's Your Preference?
Friday, 5 June 2015
Too wet or too dry? Gardeners are never happy. It never seems to be just right. Makes me think of a paragrah in The Gardener's June, one of Karel Capek's amusing and quizzical essays in A Gardener's Year. "If it were of any use, every day the gardner would fall to his knees and pray somehow like this: "O Lord, grant that in some way it may rain every day, say from about midnight until three o'clock in the morning, but you see it must be gentle and warm so that it can soak in; grant that at the same time it would not rain on . . . . the others which you in your infinite wisdom know are drought-loving plants . . . ." . And goes on in similar tongue-in-cheek manner to request that once a week thin liquid manure may fall from the heavens. But I think that's really greedy, and pushing his luck.
Take this year's May weather, the merry month of May when plants are bursting into growth. First it was dry, much too dry. Only .40 inches in all of May. All of May, that is, up until the evening of May 31st. Then the taps were opened. And then it was wet, really wet. That evening there was 1.45 inches in the rain gauge. An additional 1.9 inches by late morning on June 1st, and a further .85 inches on June 2nd. That's an impressive 4.25 inches in just three days. So the precipitation was probably close to average but the distribution left much to be desired.
Which is still not a bad as the situation from Hurricane Irene and a student's request for help with her flooded garden.
So I thought back to my meme of several years back, where I asked some gardening friends to answer a bunch of questions. After all, gardeners are nothing if not opinionated. One of the questions, appropriately enough, was weather related, to wit - what's worse - too much rain or a drought? Some, like Bruce Crawford were rather terse, with "Too much rain." for a reply. Others expanded on their replies.
My friend Joan Carter thinks that "Definitely too much rain - How do you wring water out of a soggy garden??? At least you can mulch & use drip irrigation in a drought." Dave Dahnke feels the same because "Too much rain. I can't bail quick enough!"
Some took local weather patterns into consideration. Ellen Hollenback thinks drought is the more serious problem because "too much rain rarely lasts for months, drought does." And Nora MacDonald mulled it over, "What's worse - drought or drenching rain? Hmmm... Drowned plants or scorched plants? I suppose drought; It doesn't usually rain long enough in this part of the world to drown anything, except perhaps the Lewisias I lost a couple of years ago."
But then, since every year has its differences it might be the local hiccup in the weather patern. Jerry Barad pointed out that "After the seven or more inches of rain that has fallen in the past week I am really quite ready for a drought. We have our own well and have been able to irrigate most everything when things get too dry."
What do I think? This one is tough to answer. You can't do much for drownded plants, but you can only water in a drought until the hose pipe bans are in effect.
Drought-tolerant plants have built-in features to minimize water loss and maximize water uptake. They may have reduced leaf areas and bear small leaves or needles in the case of evergreens. Some drought-tolerant plants with large leaves have deep indentations (sinuses) between lobes in the leaves to reduce their leaf area. Another sign of drought tolerance is leaves covered with a heavy accumulation of wax such as that seen on white fir. This wax serves to conserve water within a plant. The presence of fine hairs on the leaves of some plants like silver sage is another adaptation that traps moisture at the leaf surface. Drought tolerant plants like false blue indigo, Baptisia australis, have deep roots that pull in moisture well below the soil surface. Other drought tolerant plants include portulaca, wax begonia, nasturtium, gazania, gomphrena, strawflower, dusty miller.
UPDATE: Late June -Several friends with livestock have reported issues with hay, a follow-on to the May drought. One who has always cut sufficient for their horses and goats said she might have to buy in hay, for the first time in 20 years. Another said the hay yield was down about 30 per cent. And a third said the quality was so poor that she refused it for her horses. Let someone else buy it for their cows. She'd hope for a better cutting in early fall.
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