You have a garden full of plants purchased from Blue Stem (Thank you, thank you) and you were diligent about planting them all right away, as a good gardener would. It would be really nice if the hard part was done, but with the hot summer weather upon us, the real challenge begins...how to keep newly installed plants alive during the inevitable drought.
No need to panic! There are plenty of things you can do to help your young plants make it through. Here are our top tips for keeping your native plants happy and healthy through the dry summer months.
If you don’t already have a rain barrel, or several, GET ONE! (Or several!) One good afternoon rainstorm can easily fill a barrel, and you can use it to supplement your water usage when the dry spell hits. Pick up a package of Mosquito Dunks to add to the water, preventing mosquito larvae from hatching. It does not harm pollinators or plants. Fill your watering cans or rig up a drip irrigation system that you can turn on and off at the spigot.
Speaking of…get your hands on some drip hose! Drip irrigation is the most effective method to keep your plants properly hydrated as the water is directed close to the soil and does not hit the leaves or evaporate easily.
Become really quite ridiculous when it comes to “saving water” and don’t dump cooking water down the drain. Strain that pasta water into a bucket, let it cool, and use that to water your plants, or place a large bowl in your sink when you wash your hands, using an environmentally friendly soap (Sun&Earth, Seventh Generation, and Dr. Bronner’s are all great options). Add that water to your rain barrels or use a watering can to water your plants, taking care to water low to the ground, not splashing all over the leaves and flowers. I’m kind of a nut, but I don’t see a single thing wrong with putting a bin in the shower and using that recaptured water. A long-term investment of a grey water system is definitely in my future!
If your town has a water ban and requires you to stick to a strict schedule, and only use a hose, I feel you. Personally, I think allowing drip irrigation on a timer is a far better solution but tell that to the bureaucrats. If you are relegated to using a hose, make sure you are watering as deeply as you can. Divide your yard in sections if you must, and water one section every other day. When you water, first pass your hose slowly over the area, lightly dampening the soil. You may notice the water beading up if the top layer is really dry. This first pass will help break that hydrophobic tendency of the soil. Go back over the section two more times, each time watering enough to see the water pool around the plants, soaking in, and pooling again. You are aiming for around an inch of water for each plant. It can help to set down a small tin like a tuna can, so that you can measure how much water you have applied.
Mulch! Use mulch to help keep the roots of your plants cool and retain the moisture they need. I’m not talking the dyed stuff from the box store, use what your property has already given you, as much as possible! If you saved your leaves from the fall, they are probably well on their way to breaking down into some really fantastic mulch. Use it around your plants! Keep the mulch away from the base of your plants, as it can introduce rot and encourage pests. Building up a well shape around your plants can help when you are able to water, by enabling the pooling discussed in the point above. Grass clippings are helpful too, as are pine needles and compost. If you feel you must bring in outside mulch, choose finely shredded pine mulch that has not been dyed, or use arborist wood chips on the top of the soil. Avoid mixing any of the mulch into to soil. 2-3” of mulch should be enough to keep needed moisture in the ground.
If you are lucky enough to go away on a lovely vacation this summer, utilize tools to help keep your plants happy. Ingenious items such as Hydro Wine spikes turn your empty wine bottles into drip irrigation systems, and there are others that use empty 2 liter bottles. (Hydro Wine Container Watering System, Set of 4). There are glass bulbs that would look very cool scattered throughout the garden, and I’ve also seen some funky, fun shaped glass options that will add whimsy along with keeping your plants thriving.
I know you are saying…but I planted natives because you said they were drought tolerant! Well, they are…once they are well established! If you have plants that have just been transplanted, those root systems haven’t ventured deep enough into the soil to maintain the plant, that takes time! You will need to show these new babes some love through the first season, while they put all of their energy into growing those roots.
I hope these tips help. Water bans and droughts are very much a way of life from here on out and we need to do everything we can to help mitigate the effects. Be sure to share any tips you may have to keep your gardens watered through the dry summer months.