How can I help my garden survive in drought conditions?
Plants installed over the last three years will need supplemental water to keep them going during dry weather spells. To check your soil for dryness, dig down 3 to 5 inches.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire state of Illinois is in a drought. While the Garden has increased waterings over the 385 acres, it is recommended that homeowners do the same. The Illinois Drought Response Task Force was activated for the first time since 2005 to examine conditions, inform residents, and look at alternative water sources and water conservation.
The combination of warmer-than-normal temperatures, high winds, and below-average rainfall has made gardeners and farmers wary. Plants that need water will show such symptoms as color change and wilting, curling, or dropping leaves. Check plants in the morning, and look for signs of dehydration. Pay special attention to annuals, vegetables, and plants installed over the last two to three years. Some plants require less supplemental water. Established trees and shurbs only need an inch of water per week.
Kathie Hayden, manager of the Garden's plant information services, advises that watering during a drought requires attention to each type of plant. When the soil is not receiving adequate rainfall, gardeners and homeowners have to supplement what nature offers. The most important thing is to monitor your garden, checking to see how dry the soil is, and providing extra water when summer turns hot and dry. Watering thoroughly and deeply is usually better than light, frequent watering. Give most attention to plants installed earlier in the year.
Plants in containers generally are in a light growing medium that will dry out quickly. Those in shade might still only need watering every other day, while those in the sun might need to be watered twice a day. Gardeners and homeowners should also be careful not to overwater. Soaker hoses are helpful for perennials and shrubs, but lawns and trees do better with sprinklers.
Some homeowners will decide to let lawns go dormant during hot, dry periods. Mowing the lawn to a height of 3 inches or more helps the grass withstand the stress of heat and drought. Homeowners and gardeners who want to keep their lawns green should aim for a deeper root system by watering deeply.
Hot weather increases stress on gardeners as well as plants, so when you work in the garden during a heat wave, wear sunscreen and drink lots of water.
Water early in the morning if you can, but otherwise water when plants are dry. It is best to allow enough time after irrigating so plants can dry before night sets in; damp foliage at night can lead to disease. Mulch beds with shredded bark or leaf mulch to help reduce the amount of water needed.
Call the Chicago Botanic Garden's Plant Information Office at (847) 835-0972, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.