Extreme weather can take a toll on your garden, any time of year. Weather excesses may cause damage and demand that you take action. So what’s a hard-working gardener to do? Here’s how to deal with weather extremes so you can protect your garden from whatever Mother Nature dishes out.
Garden Damage – Drought
Drought is actually the most difficult to deal with. Watering is easy until there is none and/or water restrictions are put into place. Fortunately there is something you can do if you live in an area prone to droughts. Rain barrels—homemade or purchased—can help save your gardens. Adding mulch to your gardens can also help. All you need is 2 to 3 inches of material to retain moisture. Too much will wick it up and outward, negating the reason.
In drought conditions, plants have their own defense too.
When a drought is forthcoming, most plants start with their own conservation, especially if they are mature plants. Established plants will start going through a dormant period, so feeding is no longer required. Adding any fertilizer with a nitrogen base will cause flushing of new leaves, and interruption of photosynthesis “shutdown,” causing it to go into a reverse shock. Watering everyday should also be avoided. Plants can actually be “leaned out” in their watering—they will get used to having to conserve, so that when the drought is actually occurring, they don’t need as much. You can see this in lawns as well—they’re not dying, just resting.
Usually, leaves will droop, turn brown, and fall off. That is actually a good thing for that plant —it is stopping its cycle of uptake. But, most times, gardeners will feed more, water more, and the plant will die. The best practice is to help by selective pruning before, or at the onset of drought to help in the dormancy period. The plant will actually let you know, as it rebounds.
Of course, after the drought ends, depending on the seasonality of the plant, refurbishing by feeding times and only watering every three days will help it along. There will be some excess blooms sometimes, because most plants, as they stress, produce bloom for seed, to preserve the generations.
Garden Damage – Flooding
On the other side of extreme dry weather, extended periods of rain, flooding, and snow melt will have the same effect on your gardens. Some plants will thrive on too much water; others will drown. Again, keep in mind the feeding cycle here too — sometimes we can actually kill plants by causing root fungus. Drainage can be helped by applying Gypsum around the base or even leaf mold, which will help keep the soil perking. Applying ironite will help tremendously to keep leaves from yellowing (if you’ve had a soil test that shows that your soil is low in iron, adding iron will help turn the lawn green. However, many people dislike ironite because it contains other heavy metals). Container plants should not use any mixes that help retain moisture, as they will never dry out. Check labels.
There will be times during excessive watering that you will need to look into pruning or snapping off “suckers” at the base of your trees and shrubs (when a root sends up a new stem away from the main stem, we call it a sucker). Suckers will take away from the tops of most plants, especially the bloom cycle. Crape Myrtles and Ornamental Pears are a good example of this. Excessive snow/ice, or heavy winds may break limbs and there will be a need to repair the structure of them or even replace the plantings. If you need to prune for damage, the outer shoots, or “drip line” is where most of your feeder roots are, and the plant has grown accustomed to them. Selective pruning is best so as not take away from its base. Damage first, relief last.
Smaller beds, after a lot of rain, may need to have their leaf parts washed off. The muddy covering will halt photosynthesis because the sun cannot reach them, as well as harbor oncoming fungus.
There will also be times that you will need to rehab the garden soil due to washout, which will expose those swollen roots. It’s best not to feed, as the rootballs cannot take up any nutrients because of the excess moisture. It’s best to wait a couple of weeks, let it rebound, and if there are any new shoots or especially blooms, your plant is feeding again.
Bed prep, feeding and watering properly, top dressing, amendments, dormant season pruning — all these can help with drought and excessive water conditions. Basics are only what the plants want, overdoing it can cause harm. Sometimes benevolent neglect is the key during harsh extremes.