Severe weather events are more frequent than in the past and your yard provides the perfect opportunity to adapt to the new reality of “more rain, less often”. Here are some garden-related tactics that can help save the day while improving the performance of your garden overall.
Reduce hard surfaces. Ask yourself, do you really need a concrete walkway or an asphalt driveway? Consider the amount of rain water that flows directly on such surfaces, then onto the street and storm water sewers below.
Green alternatives include tough-wearing ground covers like Periwinkle (vinca), Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), Baltic or English Ivy (Hedera helix) and Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis). We used evergreen Spurge in our previous back garden, where the dog ran free. No amount of abuse from our rottweiler could damage it.
Hallow pavers planted with Irish moss or creeping thyme. Well placed, this arrangement can provide the perfect place to park a car or table and chairs for a cool lunch. Mulch. A thick 5 or 6 cm layer of finely ground up cedar or pine bark mulch will insulate soil from the pounding effects of a rain storm. Further, this all-natural mulch reduces the need for watering by up to 70 per cent and weeding by up to 90 per cent.
The miracle of a generous layer of mulch is that there is no down-side. As it breaks down over the years, it enhances soil conditions and helps to build a healthy population of earth worms. What is not to like?
Marginal plants. In our profession, much is made of plants that soak up quantities of water and tolerate dry spells too. Mark has many of these growing near the edge of his pond. We recommend them for use wherever your property dips and collects water during spring run-off or after a heavy down-pour of rain. We recommend the following:
Native ferns. There are many to choose from. Look for Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) and the famous Fiddlehead fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) for tough plants that tolerate lots of moisture and periods of dryness.
Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula Rubra). We call this the “candy floss” perennial. It stands almost two meters high, features large, fluffy pink blossoms that make people stand up and notice your garden this time of year. They are tough and love to spread.
Perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.). In bloom now in many sunny gardens. Best known for their ultra-large saucer shaped flowers. Mark has one standing in water all summer long at the edge of his pond. And yet, they are suitable for planting in the garden also, where the soil remains moist after a rainfall.
Bugbane (Cimicifuga simplex) loves water so much that it tends to be the first plant in Mark’s garden to take a bow in dry conditions. As the leaves wilt, it easily re-hydrates and stands up for another week or so of heat and dryness. Meter and half tall, bright yellow flowers this time of year. Talk about versatile! False Goat’s Beard (Astilbe). The flowers, which occur in early to late summer depending on the variety, lend them selves to cutting and bringing indoors. With a wide range of brilliant colours to choose from astilbe is hard to resist. Once it dries out, however, it does not re-hydrate well. Keep out of direct sun or hot spots for this reason.
And finally, to take advantage of rain water, whether it arrives in a flood or a drizzle, place rain barrels at the base of your down-spouts. Rain water is charged with oxygen, is warm and soft. All plants love it and most plants respond better to rain water than cold, hard tap water.
Now you know.
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.