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Spring Drought

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday 1 June, 2001

As I write this, we are getting the first really good soaking rain in two months. However after that drought, even if we get good precipitation for the rest of the growing season, our plants will still bear the burden of the stress they have gone through.

The National Weather Service doesn’t even call what we had a “drought.” The Pacific Northwest and the Southeast are suffering drought, here we just had a little “moisture deficit.” But the chrysanthemums I planted last fall have died, and one of the two oak-leaf hydrangeas I raised from seed (the one in less shade).

Our big maple in front is suffering. For the twenty-four years we’ve been here, it has kept the hot summer sun off half the house. Now a third of its limbs are either bare or have only a few tiny, stunted leaves on them. I’ve been watering around the base of the tree, but Certified Arborist Don Massucco, of Townsend, says considering the extent that tree roots actually cover, it’s very difficult to adequately water a mature one.

He also says trees’ heaviest need for water is in April and May. That got me thinking: what else relies on those “April showers”? Seeds do, to soften the coating around them so the plant can sprout. In fact, I have seen fewer seedlings sprouting around the garden this year; normally my soil is so fertile that I get a lot of seedlings germinating, and I rely on this by scattering seeds casually in the fall.

Hostas are normally fairly drought-tolerant. But now is when they start sending up their fat shoots, that hold the tightly-curled, growing leaves. I bet they need moisture for that growth spurt. Several of mine have been very late emerging from the ground this year. I called Jim Tucker, who grows more than 300 varieties at Potanipo Gardens in Mason, New Hampshire. He said a lot of his have been late too, and he thinks it’s the drought.

A lot of Jim’s and my hostas also have strangely distorted leaves this spring; it’s not clear this is from the drought but this is the kind of thing that happens when a plant is stressed. Rain will prevent further stress, but it won’t fix those leaves. Is there damage I can’t see? If there are effects of the stress that can be healed, I know what will do it: the trace minerals in liquid seaweed. I think I’ll use it liberally this year.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark