Garden Column: Be Aware of Drought Conditions While Gardening Characteristics
Drought is a hard word for farmers and gardeners to hear. We were reminded that drought conditions are here in central Oregon with the surprising recent reports that three large reservoirs are at risk.
Water conservation, regardless of impending drought-related restrictions, should be a top concern for anyone choosing to live in central Oregon. It should be simple to understand: we live at a high altitude in the desert.
According to a US Drought Monitor map released on May 18, 2021, most of central Oregon registers as D2 (severe drought) to D3 (extreme drought). Parts of Lake and Klamath counties are in D4 (Exceptional Drought) conditions.
My mind can’t help but automatically go back to 70s TV and “So what are you going to do about that?”
There is nothing we can do to prevent a drought, but there are strategies we can implement that will help minimize the adverse effects on your landscape.
Start by monitoring the irrigation system and where the water is going. Is some of the water flowing down the driveway or sidewalk? Maybe redirecting a few sprinkler heads would eliminate the runoff. Can you change the timing of your system to irrigate for a shorter period of time?
Make sure you know the watering rules in your city. My neighborhood is in an irrigation district. Rather than having regulated irrigation times, irrigation should be done in the early morning or early evening when the heat of the day has passed and evaporation has subsided.
Mulching is one of the best things you can do for your garden. A 2-3 inch mulch covering your garden can block weed growth, keep the soil moist, and as it rots will nourish both the soil and the plants growing in it. A general rule of thumb is that mulch and compost are retained about an inch from the base of the plant. The most popular mulches are organic commercial mulches.
For years we have read that pine needles acidify the soil. A two-year study of mulching with pine needles showed that the soil’s pH was the same as two years earlier. They might not look that pretty, but you’ll have to admit that they are profitable.
It is helpful to stop fertilizing. Let’s face it, we are far too generous when we should instead be more concerned with enriching the soil. Fertilizers encourage plant growth; the more a plant grows, the more moisture it needs.
Removing wilted flowers before they have time to sow saves energy for your plants. Plants do not need to put in energy (for which they need water) to produce seeds.
It might not be fun at the best of times, but removing these weeds from the garden during drought is especially important. The reason: weed roots steal valuable moisture from the soil. Mark your calendar, June 13, 2021 has been declared National Weed Day in your garden.
If you are looking to plan a more drought tolerant garden, you may want to consider some of the following.
Familiarize yourself with the native plants that grow well in our area. “Selecting Native Plants for Domestic Landscapes in Central Oregon” Oregon State University Extension EC 1623 publication. Here are some things to think about: In England, mugwort is considered an exotic ornament. Why not in central Oregon?
The drought tolerant herbs list includes most of the common cooking herbs on a shopping list. Chives, garlic, and onion are great choices for low-water gardens.
Other low water herbs include lovage which has a celery-like flavor. I plan to add a container of lovage to my unheated greenhouse for the winter as a replacement for purchasing celery, half of which usually ends up in the compost bin. Oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme are common low-water cooking herbs that are also easy to dry in the microwave.
It can be exciting to take on new challenges and realize that you are not part of the problem.