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Planning for Drought

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 8 June 2001

The lack of moisture here during April and most of May means that gardens will be more susceptible to drought later this summer, when they normally get parched from heat and sun. Currently the National Weather Service projects that this June, July and August will follow normal patterns.

In Townsend we’re lucky to have plenty of water in our wells: Water Superintendent Paul Rafuse says they’re down about a foot, but that’s not significant. Nevertheless the peak demands of summer occasionally mean the storage tanks don’t refill as fast as we deplete them, and he must set restrictions on use of water outdoors. Other nearby towns may need restrictions more often.

In my garden, I use several strategies to minimize drought. Watering is my last resort; I would prefer to have the plants and the soil conditions form a healthy ecosystem that can survive without that. It’s also a bother. Rafuse says a good irrigation system, with multiple zones and automatic timing, can actually use less water than sprinklers, but even so most people who get one don’t bother to keep it adjusted, and don’t turn it off when it’s raining.

For the few moisture-loving plants I have allowed myself (like my roses), I run a soaker hose around their beds. Drip irrigation, including soaker hoses, is the most thrifty way to irrigate, because it delivers the water to the roots without spraying it through the air, where it evaporates. Some plants also do much better with water delivered directly to the roots; for example roses get a fungus infection (Black Leaf Spot) if their leaves are wet too much.

There are several kinds of soaker hoses. Some leak water very quickly; these are only for emergency watering; slow ones are for regular irrigation. There are also different diameters; the 5/8-inch are more versatile because you can assemble a system with pierces of soaker hose where you need watering and regular hose where you don’t. You can buy kits for systems, and you can also get components separately from fancy garden catalogs. The advantage of putting together your own system is that you can tailor it to the needs of each bed, each plant. But you don’t need the fancy stuff; I use regular hose fittings which are available at many hardware stores.

Even thought I do irrigate some, the strategies I prefer to watering are improving the moisture retention of the soil, preventing evaporation from the soil with mulches and ground covers, and drought-resistant plants. In the coming weeks I will say more about each of these.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark