Canada has an abundance of fresh water. We cannot afford to waste it.
With some planning, you can reduce the demands that your garden has for water and help to reduce the amount of time you devote to the task of watering.
Here are some tips to make your garden more “water-wise” as you deal with the heat of mid-summer.
1. Plant selection is the first and foremost consideration for building a resilient garden. Consider some of the following:
Succulents are particularly trendy right now, however many are native to desert climates and some work only as annuals in Canada. Red Yucca and Stonecrop tolerate the dry heat of summer as well as our cold winters. The range of winter hardy succulents is surprisingly broad. Mark grows the ground-hugging sempervivums on his two green roofs and many readers will have the sedum Autumn Joy growing in a sunny position in the garden. It will produce a large umbel-shaped flower in the next month that will attract butterflies and native bees to beat the band. Matures to about 50 cm high.
Creeping Thyme is a beautiful ground cover that grows about 2 cm and offers fragrance and colour while standing up to moderate foot traffic. Perfect for a “living path” or grown between flagstones.
Native flowers are always a smart choice — they support pollinators and provide insect habitat. Many native plants thrive in our cold winters and long droughts. Our favourites are Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), Canada Anenome (Anenome canadensis), Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) and Cylindrical Blazing Star (Liatris cylindracea).
Native grasses feature many of the same benefits as their flowering cousins, but not all are considered drought tolerant as they are often adapted to riverbanks and lakesides. However, western wheatgrass, little bluestem, needle grass, and June grass are all very capable of thriving in a dry-spell.
Non-native ornamental grasses, such as feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora “Karl Foerster”) or Chinese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis), generally are native to Asia and offer the same drought-resistance as some of their native counterparts, while also offering interest in the form of flowers and spikes. Wait until spring to cut them down while they provide habitat for over-wintering birds and critters.
2. Soil forms the foundation of a healthy garden, and there are a variety of ways you can make sure that the soil in your yard is providing the best possible support through the dry season.
Add organic matter. Compost or manure increases available nutrients to plants and improves overall soil structure. Improved soil structure not only means superior water-holding capacity in times of drought, but also improved drainage and reduced erosion in times of heavy rainfall.
Practise “no-till” or “minimum-tillage,” a common practice in agriculture where research shows that agitating soil through tillage depletes organic matter, interrupts microbial life and destroys soil structure — three pillars which help soil adapt to a range of moisture conditions.
3. Conserve. Use a weeping hose to get water directly to the root zone of plants grown in beds or rows, and a root waterer for containers, which probes straight into the root zone of the plant to reduce water lost by running across the surface.
4. Lawns are OK to go brown this time of year, they are “dormant” and will come back strong in the fall when evening temperatures dip and morning dew becomes heavy. Cut your lawn at 6 to 8 cm high and leave the clippings, rather than bagging them. Tall grass blades produce deeper roots, which makes your lawn more resilient in dry spells. A mulching mower will work wonders over the long haul. Mid-August through September is the best time of year to start lawn seed.
We can’t control the weather, but these tips can help you adapt responsibly while you continue to enjoy a great garden.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.