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A Sign For Our Times

June 25, 2012 - Picture this:  It's been six weeks since it last rained.  The heat has been extreme. Your soil, primarily clay, has begun some major cracking.  The grass, despite weekly watering, can best be described as brittle.  So far, you've bit the bullet when it comes to your flower beds because you can't bear the idea of not watering them.  The flowers aren't exactly fluorishing - they'd really prefer rain - but some are hanging in.  Your roses, blissfully unaware there's a problem, carry on without effort.  The vegetable garden, wisely located in part shade, is doing ok.  Not without watering, however. 

That's the problem.  Guilt about watering so much.  It's difficult, but the time has come to consider triage.

Life in suburbia means keeping the neighbors happy to an at least minimal standard.  Let's be honest, though: nobody's yard looks good.  Well - there is that couple down the street who water all day, everyday.  But that's just wackadoodle.  Time to take a deep breath and allow yourself to think the unthinkable.  No more watering the lawn.

What about the flowers?  A selective approach might be your best bet.  If you've planted native perennials, occasional watering may suffice.  The mailbox plantings will have to make it on their own.  A few spots of color here and there, provided by annuals in containers, can satisfy your need for beauty.  As for the vegetables, it all depends on the degree to which you rely upon them to supplement your diet.  Can you move some of your plants to shadier locations?  Ideally, that would have been done a while ago.  Your rain barrel is, obviously, running on empty; however, if you're hoping to do some canning, it might help to collect some graywater from the shower.  My husband and I have just started this approach (it's really been dry, lately).  It can't possibly hurt.

I think your main consideration should be your trees. Without trees, you've got no shade. Not for the house, which helps keep you a little cooler, and not for other plants.  I lost two pine trees last year, after a terrible drought in 2010, and I didn't enjoy that at all.  If you've got fruit or nut trees, by all means keep them going the best you can.  Mulching your trees and your beds is an awfully good idea.  Not only does mulching help the soil retain moisture, it also helps keep the soil - and plant roots - a bit cooler.  An additional benefit is the soil building character of organic mulches.  Once lousy soil will show real improvement after only a few years of mulching.

It's not easy at all to decide to let things go dormant, or even die, but during a prolonged drought it's nearly unavoidable.  If it needs saying, this would not be the time to try out new pretty plants, or put in new decorative beds.  It's definitely a time for keen observation.  What actually does well during hellacious weather?  What needs the least amount of water?  I remember visiting England in 1977 (yes, I'm that old).
They were enduring a terrible drought at the time.  What I remember best is the signs I saw on the sides of buses: Let the flowers die.  For a nation of gardeners, they were hard times indeed.  Unfortunately, those signs have turned out to be a Sign For Our Times.

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