Adventures in gardening: water conservation & late bloomers
For many gardeners the month of August is a transitional one. Summer weather is still at its peak and there are many lazy, hot days and calm evenings ahead when you can relax and enjoy your garden. Plants that bloomed earlier this year are producing seed heads you can collect - these small harvests are a hint of the fall activities that increase next month. Meanwhile, late summer perennials are coming into bloom. If you have empty pockets or areas that have ‘gone green’, check the to do list below for a selection of ‘late bloomers’ whose colour will take you into September. Dealing with the weather is a constant challenge for gardeners and this summer has been no exception. Parts of Canada have seen flooding and record rain while many parts of British Columbia have been exceptionally dry. It’s typical for gardens to dry out at times during the hottest period of the year, but there are various things all gardeners can do to be water-wise.
It’s a sad fact that Canadians are among the world’s biggest water users and water wasters. Water is a precious resource and it’s everyone’s responsibility to use as little and as wisely as possible. Being water-wise in the garden will save you money and time. It just makes sense – here’s a list of some simple ways.
- Install one or more water barrels around your property to collect rainwater from the downspouts. Use this to fill up watering cans, or connect it to a soaker hose.
- Spread a thick coating of mulch about 2”/5cm deep to cover any exposed soil in flower and vegetable beds. For more on mulch read Adventures in gardening: The joy of mulch.
- Install soaker hoses throughout your garden. Thread them in between plants and shrubs, either on the surface of the dirt and under the mulch, or better yet dig them in to a depth of 5-10cm.
- Avoid watering or using a sprinkler during the heat of the day. Much of that precious water will simply disappear before it has chance to penetrate to the plant’s root, thanks to evaporation – talk about waste.
- The best time to water is always in the evening or early morning, that way the garden will get the full benefit.
- Water deeply and infrequently rather than a light daily sprinkle, in order to encourage strong, deep root growth and healthy plants.
- The general rule of thumb is that gardens need about 1’/2.5cm of water per week, either by rain or watering. You’ll need to water new plantings and plants in containers more often. You will likely need to water more frequently during hot, dry weather spells.
- Have you heard of ‘xeriscaping’? Also known as hydrozoning, it’s the rather practical idea of grouping together plants with similar water needs. For example, put thirstier plants in one part of the garden, more drought-tolerant plants in another. This approach allows you to water more efficiently, giving only what’s needed to each area. If you’re now thinking about redesigning an existing bed or creating a new one, make sure you read my last column for useful tips on garden design.
‘Canada’s Gardening Guru’ Mark Cullen devotes an entire chapter to water conservation in his latest book, “The Canadian Garden Primer, An Organic Approach.” Mark’s 18th (!) book is an invaluable resource, packed with helpful tips, straightforward advice and easy instructions: http://www.markcullen.com/buyers_guide/books.htm.
I am 100% for water conservation and strive to do this by whatever practical means possible, but I must admit that soaker hoses have been my nemesis at times. The standard length of a soaker hose is 50’/15m, so the first step was to calculate how many I’d need to cover all my main beds – about 8. Soaker hoses come tightly coiled, so the next step was trying to stretch and straighten them out a bit on the lawn so they’d be easier to work with. I was determined to ensure the maximum water benefit for the plants so I decided to dig in the hoses rather than laying them on the surface of the soil. You definitely need a buddy for the next step: one person will carefully maneuver around the plants (did I mention I waited until the plants were grown, rather than doing this in spring when there’s more room to move?) and dig a narrow trench about 4”/10cm deep, while the other person will simultaneously feed the hose into that trench and pack it down with earth to keep it in place. Many, many hours later… the soaker hose adventure was complete, I happily plugged my garden hose into each soaker hose end in turn, and watered contentedly. Several weeks later I needed to do some transplanting, but neglected to look at the sketch I’d made of where the soaker hoses lay. Bad idea. With one decisive shovel thrust I cut cleanly through the middle of one of my soaker hose sections. So much for efficient watering… Note to self – and word to the wise – whether it’s a sketch, markers in the garden, or a less zealous approach to digging, be sure you know precisely where you’ve buried your soaker hoses - or perhaps lay them on top of the soil, but under the mulch – so that you don’t undo your hard work.
Like a lot of things, gardening is more fun when you have company! Take some friends along to your local garden centre, you may be surprised and delighted by what they discover. I love this happy picture of my then 5-year-old nephew Liam and 2-year-old niece Emily, my ‘helpers.’
August ‘to do list’
- Assess your garden’s water needs and add rain barrels, soaker hoses and so on, where needed.
- Don’t forget about water features, adding a small, bubbling fountain or even a simple birdbath can really enhance the enjoyment factor.
- Keep up the vigilance for signs of bug damage, I find that diatomaceous earth for earwig control and slug bait pellets work best for those pests.
- I’ve also found that putting crunched up newspaper balls at the base of plants works well for trapping earwigs as they love to crawl into dark places, but you do have to regularly remove and dispose of the newspapers.
- The Japanese beetle is a voracious eater that’s thriving in many gardens again this year. I’ve tried several and found that Japanese beetle traps do NOT work well, as they end up attracting beetles from the entire neighbourhood into my yard. A far better approach is to walk around with a simple glass jar (my ‘jar of death’) and flick the bugs off the plant and into the jar, and put the lid on.
- There’s still plenty of planting time left this year, here are several low-maintenance perennials with blooms that will take you through late summer and into fall: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Chrysanthemum ‘Clara Curtis,’ Phlox, Asters, Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan,) Echinacea, Perovskia (Russian Sage.)
- Another perennial that will bloom into September is Beebalm (Monarda,) also known as Bergamot. The mint-like foliage is not only pleasantly aromatic, it’s also edible. In fact, the leaves and petals of all Beebalm are edible. I love having both Marshall’s Delight (pink) and Jacob Cline (red) in my garden. Be creative and scatter the petals on assorted dishes as an eye-catching garnish. On top of all that, the shaggy flower heads attract bees and butterflies – lots of great reasons to make sure you have some in your garden.
I look forward to hearing your gardening stories and suggestions and will be incorporating them into future columns. So please be sure to add your comments below, upload your photos to our website, or tweet me an update and photo of your garden at @SuzanneTWN. Join me on TV weekday afternoons and early evenings for the latest weather news and forecast so you’ll know the best time to work and play in your garden.
I’ll join you again next month with ideas for a September garden. In the meantime, the outdoors is always beckoning - what are you waiting for? Happy gardening adventures!
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream