Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
June, 2007
Regional Report

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This simple drip circle conserves water and puts it where the tree needs it.

Drip, Drip, Drip

Although many of us are still enjoying the cool temperatures and adequate rainfall of spring, we know the heat will come, possibly along with summer drought.

Now, while everything is moist and succulent, is a good time to start monitoring and putting into place those systems that will help our gardens and landscapes through harder times. Using water wisely and conserving it whenever possible not only helps protect the environment, but it also saves us money and makes our landscapes the best they can be.

Water is one of the most critical factors that can limit plant growth since plants need it for photosynthesis and self-cooling (as do humans). There are several ways to conserve water in your landscape without going to extremes and gardening with only desert plants.

Choose Plants With Low Water Needs
Growing plants that need less water is certainly one way to reduce your water use, and this is a good mindset to be in when buying new plants. One simple fact: plants with gray leaves are usually drought tolerant. The leaves look gray from the small hairs that cover the surface, and these hairs reduce water loss. Also, look for plants with narrow or small leaves with less surface area for evaporation.

Zone Plants
When deciding where to place plants, think in terms of zones. Group plants with similar water needs together in order to make irrigating easier and more conservative.

Organic Matter
The next step in water conservation is to make sure your soil has plenty of organic matter such as compost or composted manure. This will not only help the soil retain water when it does rain or you irrigate, but it makes plants healthier and able to withstand stress without suffering.

An easy way to keep the soil moist and make the best use of the water plants receive is to mulch. Mulch also protects the plants from stress, and research shows that plants grow faster and resist diseases and pests better when mulched. Choose an organic mulch that you like and that makes the garden look attractive. Just a few suggestions: shredded bark or chipped wood for shrub and tree beds, cocoa bean hulls or compost for perennial and annual flower gardens, and straw for the vegetable garden.

Collect Your Water
Make sure your rain gutters are in good shape and place an old-fashioned rain barrel beneath downspouts to give you water for irrigation. You can find rain barrels with spigots already installed and lids that fit snugly to eliminate mosquito problems. You can also use mosquito "dunks," which are pellets of an organic control for the larvae.

Use Drip Irrigation
Last of all, consider using drip or trickle irrigation where it's practical. These methods apply small amounts of water to the base of plants where it's used efficiently rather than evaporating.

With these methods in place, your garden should be ready to face the heat of summer, and you can then spend that time lazing in the hammock instead of watering your plants.

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