Friday, August 31, 2012

More or not enough: rain and gardening

Looking at this past growing season from the beginning (late May) and near the end (late August) leads me to ruminate upon water.

5/26/12 The garden has never looked better than it does this spring.  Partly this is because the plants in the new gardens are now big enough to look right, but mostly this is because there was SO much rain earlier in the spring.  I've always known that water is essential to plants, yada, yada but WHAT a demonstration.  Mature perennials which reliably grow to a certain size are much larger, although the only change has been more water.  Sufficient rain (which we get most years) turns out not to be the same thing as optimal rain (which we got this year).

(Interlude, featuring the worst drought in 50 years)

8/31/12 Here at the tail end of a drought (and its STILL droughty out in the garden) the power of water has been shown once again.  Without getting into the philosophical questions raised by running 750+ feet of hose (all summer long, sometimes 24/7) the LACK of rain demonstrated convincingly that no other input (including hose water) can substitute for water from the sky: Hose water kept the garden limping along without any major die-back, but limping along and doing well are quite different states.

If the conditions we experienced this summer are to become the "new normal," I believe that home gardening will have to adapt in at least a couple of ways.

1) An increase in container gardening.
Container gardening takes less hose-water to keep going that in-ground gardening (although it takes more human input to run those hoses--so I suppose some sort of automation of the watering function will also have to take place).  Since the technically-oriented method of planting containers and running automated watering systems are not the traditional mode of midwestern gardening, I would expect fewer people to self-identify as gardeners going forward (and I'd expect more people to give it up and stay inside in the air-conditioning, as is only sensible, if you think about it).

2) An increase in non-native plantings, especially of "backbone plants" like trees and shrubs.
Natives around here expect a certain amount of water and won't thrive with reduced water availability.  For example: although I would expect to have to keep new trees/shrubs going with hose water for a growing season or even two seasons, having to keep giant oaks and maples going with the hose was a daunting proposition this summer.*  A maple big enough to shade a house drinks a LOT of water.  Perhaps a more drought-tolerant tree from a drier climate would be a better choice for the next tree-planting spree around here.  In this regard, the recent trend toward requiring "all-native" or "mostly native" plantings (a west-coast phenomena) seems to me to be going exactly backwards in allowing gardeners to adapt their landscapes to the changing climate (yet another reason, I fear, that sitting in the air conditioning seems increasingly likely to supplant gardening).

* Most people around here did not water their trees, and their trees look OK.  However, in the next few years I'm afraid I'll see trees which were stressed in this summer's drought succumb to the stress of disease, insects or further drought.  Reading that hundreds of millions of trees are considered lost in Texas due to drought had much influence on my decision to water even giant and well-established trees.

No comments :

Post a Comment