In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
July, 2012
Regional Report

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This pot of succulents is quite at home in drought (but still needs water!)


Much of the Midwest is in the midst of a hot dry summer, and there are a great many plants that are suffering from the lack of moisture. I'm going to borrow a term from the medical field to describe the process of helping alleviate the situation. "Triage" simply means figuring out which things are in the most desperate need of help and can benefit most from limited resources, and which we can't do anything about, so we must let them go unaided, even if it means irreparable damage.

Look at Your Water Budget
Look at your water budget and figure out where you will spend it to get the most benefits. Think through what is most important to you and allot your water accordingly. It may sound harsh to let some thirsty plantings go unwatered, but it may actually help you re-think your landscape in a more sustainable way for the future. Keep in mind that, depending on your landscape water budget, some things you do decide to water will simply be kept in a holding pattern. They will probably not look good until rain comes, and in many cases won't look good again until next year.

Established Shade Trees
Fortunately, most large shade trees like oaks and hickories have deep and wide enough root systems to take advantage of reserves of moisture still in the soil. They may be drought stressed, but are probably not in danger of permanent damage -- yet. But if drought conditions do continue long enough to threaten these expensive to replace -- both in terms of dollars and lost growth -- backbones of the landscape, it is well worth using limited water resources to make sure they survive.

Newly Planted Shrubs and Trees
Smaller trees and shrubs planted over the past few years are suffering, so you'll need to give them some assistance to protect your investment. If they've been planted at least two years, they will have fairly well established root systems. Watering these plants every three weeks or so, giving their roots a long and deep soaking. You want to encourage the roots to go deep into the ground where they can take advantage of water available in lower levels of soil .

Most ferns and other groundcovers drying up, but many of them will simply go dormant as they lose water. Even if they look pretty bad, you need to make a decision whether to let them go and spend your water budget elsewhere, or begin to water them to bring them back to life.

Vegetables and Fruits
Many people concentrate on keeping vegetables and small fruits well-watered because it's very important to provide healthy food for their families. Vegetables and fruits need lots of water as they set their fruits, so this is often where most people put the majority of their water budget.

Annual Flowers
Shallow rooted annual flowers also need plenty of water. Although it's certainly wonderful to have their color in the garden, they're very expensive in terms of a water budget. It's hard to see them shrivel, but next year or perhaps even in the fall, you can replant and have flowers again. I have allowed myself the luxury of a couple of containers of flowers that I water daily.

Perennials may start looking pretty ragged, but deep watering once a week will at least keep them alive and keep leaves on the plants to provide food for the crowns to support next year's growth. Ornamental grasses are doing just fine without water. They have deep roots and are designed to survive the frequent droughts on the prairie. If they do begin to suffer, though, you can let them go because will simply go dormant until rains come.

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