Equip yourself for dry weather: Tools and techniques to soften the slap of drought
Here’s how basic gardening tools will help you get your garden through this dry spell.
This summer’s drought has made it clear that there are some people who have no idea what to do when disaster strikes. Sadly, there are also some people who aren’t even aware that there is a drought. They just revel in another hot, sunny day.
The real gardeners were beginning to wring their hands and worry by the end of May. Their gardens had already taken a beating from the hard freezes at the end of April. They were watching a pattern of little or no rain repeat itself, week after week.
For new or inexperienced gardeners, a few basic tools and techniques can make a bad situation better. See what you already have – and see what may not be doing the job.
The first tool in every gardener’s collection should be a rain gauge. Having at least one can give you immediate feedback on how much the last popcorn shower dumped on the garden. It is not accurate to listen to the weather and see that your county got one inch of water. The sad reality is that your garden could have received 1/10 of an inch. Place your rain gauge where no people-initiated water gets into it. Check, and hopefully empty, the gauge after every rain event. If the standard is one inch of water per week, you need to know where your rain total is and how much you have to water. But keep in mind that if you got four inches of rain, that does not mean that you can forget watering for a month. Water travels rapidly through most soils and it may not last a week if the ground is dry.
During most Michigan summers and especially these hot, dry months, having enough feet of garden hoses is critical. You should have enough hose to reach everything that you want to water. A couple days of being the bucket brigade will knock all the fun out of carrying water. Hose labels that state, “flexible, light duty hose” are just code for: the hose will kink on itself in warm weather. And you will spend half of your watering time straightening it out after moving it.
Trowel or small shovel
Use your trowel to check how much moisture is in the soil. If you are finding 12 inches of damp soil in a garden bed, you may not need to water. But if you find the top three inches only are moist, it’s time to water more often or for a longer period of time.
Keep annuals,perennials,vegetables, trees and shrubs mulched with three inches of wood chips or other organic material. This will keep soil temperatures cooler and prevent top evaporation so your water work lasts longer.
Lawn irrigation system
Do not assume that your lawn irrigation system is supplying enough water to your trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials. If the system was set up correctly, only the top three or four inches is getting water. Your trees and shrubs have most of their roots in the top 18-24 inches of soil and many of the herbaceous plants are rooted to around 12 inches. And this where your non-kinky hoses can be used.
Related resources on water use or drought:
- MSU Extension drought resources
- Gardening tips for wise use of your water resources, Mary Wilson, MSU Extension
- Impacts of summer weather on landscape plants, Stephen Fouch, MSU Extension
- Native plants for Michigan landscapes: Part 1 – Trees, Mary Wilson, MSU Extension
- Native plants for Michigan landscapes: Part 2 – Shrubs, Mary Wilson, MSU Extension
- Silence of the soaker hoses, Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension
- Tough plants for tough places: Grasses, Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension
- Water saving perennials: Carefree and beautiful without the fuss, Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension
- Gardening in Michigan