This year has already been a record-breaking year for high temperatures and even drought in almost every area of the country. The predictions are these types of temperatures may be the norm for the foreseeable future, Global warming is affecting all of us. We can’t change the weather, but we can take steps to help our gardens and landscapes to survive.
Once the drought is over, there are things that will help your stressed plants return to good health and start to recover. There is some damage that is not reversible, and trees especially can take years to recover from a single episode of drought. This is why it’s important to have plans in place to help protect your plants and flowering shrubs.
This is especially true because with drought, come the water restrictions. If you don’t have a water collection system that includes rain barrels or a cistern, add one now so you are prepared for the next heat wave or drought. That water can be invaluable to the survival of your garden plants. Being prepared is the best way to minimize the damage from a drought.
Once the drought is over, assess your plants. Usually, it’s the older leaves that are affected first, and they will start to yellow and fall off. If the drought continues, the branches will start to dry and even die back. At the same time, the plant roots are suffering from lack of water and high temperatures also, you just can’t see them. Too much damage and the plant will die.
The first temptation after a drought is to water a lot. Once the drought breaks, presumably with a good rainfall, you want to go back to the usual rule of thumb which is plants need about one inch of water per week. That includes water from rain and water from the hose. Plants that have damaged roots, are newly planted and haven’t established a good root system, or if your soil is sandy you may want to water a little more. Keep the soil moist, not wet. Your plant needs oxygen as well as water, Wet soil can’t hold oxygen. Your plants will start to suffocate and be under even more stress.
Remove any damaged fruits and vegetables from the plant and hopefully there is time for new vegetables to grow. There is no reason for the plant to expend energy trying to support inedible fruit. Be especially conservative with tomato plants that survived. Tomatoes are susceptible to two diseases that are caused by inconsistent watering. Blossom end rot and splitting are the result of fluctuations in the amount of water your plants received. After the drought, increase the amount of water your tomatoes receive very gradually.
In some cases, you can cut your plants back by 1/3 to lessen the amount of water they need to survive. Once the drought ends, the plant will hopefully begin reviving and start to send out new growth shoots. Usually, it is best to avoid cutting back trees or flowering shrubs. The trees need their canopy for protection from the sun and to provide shade for the plants below. Once the drought is over, assess the trees and shrubs for damage or die off and remove any dead branches. Keep an eye open for any signs of disease or insects as your plants are very much more susceptible to both in it’s weakened state.
Keep on top of any weed growth. Hopefully you removed any weeds that could compete with your plants for water. That still holds true after the drought. Remove weeds by hand when possible or use an organic weed and grass killer to control the weeds. Do not use fertilizer at first. You do not want to stimulate the plant to produce new growth until its root system has recovered. After the drought, use a slow-release fertilizer that is high in phosphorus which promotes root growth and health.
If any of your plants failed to survive, remove them and consider replacing them with xeriscape plants. These are low water using plants that have the best chance of surviving the next drought without much, if any, additional water. Plants like lavender and Russian Sage are beautiful and will survive even with low amounts of water. Check the native plants for your area and choose those that need minimal water.
Then, check the condition and depth of the mulch in your yard. Organic material can decompose very quickly and needs to be supplemented. Aim for 3-4 inches of mulch around your plants including trees, and flowering shrubs. Your goal should be to eliminate any exposed soil. Use mulch, ground cover, and cover crops to keep the soil protected. By covering the soil, you will keep the soil moist, prevent erosion from wind, and keep the temperature of the soil lower, all of which will help your plants survive.
If you have any container grown plants that look close to death, they can sometimes be revived by immersing them in water. Once they are completely saturated, remove them from the water and allow the excess water to drain away. This is a last-ditch effort, but it is sometimes effective.
Once you have been through a drought, you will realize how important preparation can be. Once the drought begins, it can be tricky to tell if it will be of short duration or extend into months. Taking measures to save water and minimize the amount needed to give your plants the best chance of survival is so important. Prepare your soil by adding lots of organic matter that will absorb the water and hold it until needed. Cover your soil with mulch to help retain the moisture in the soil. Convert your garden to a xeriscape. Plant trees that help remove greenhouse gases and provide shade for the understory plants.
There are plenty of ways to ensure the plants you have make it, and that you’re choosing new plants that can survive dry conditions.
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