Thankfully, the crippling drought that has had California in its grips, has been broken by the return of ample winter and spring precipitation. The best time to assess the lessons we've learned about our gardens during a drought is when it's fresh on our minds. Here in my home state of NM, we've been in that same drought since 2010. And for the time being, we too are out of drought as well. As I breathe a huge sigh of relief, as are millions of gardeners across California and the west, there are three important concepts to undertake that I know will help our gardens and landscapes be better prepared to withstand future erratic weather and climate change.
Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is one of the most versatile groundcovers for cold climates growing in both sun and shade and most soil types. Plumbago blooms in late summer with deep blue flowers followed by the foliage that turns burgundy red in fall.
Nepeta 'Select Blue' (Select Blue Catmint) is a fantastic xeric perennial with dramatic lavender-blue flowers and handsome gray-green foliage. A recurrent bloomer, the first flush of flowers comes in late spring, and again later in summer. A long-lived, easily grown perennial, this is an excellent plant for beginners.
1" tall x 18" wide. Pink Chintz Thyme (Thymus Pink Chintz) is a tight, low growing creeping thyme with thick stems of woolly green foliage that blooms in mid-spring with a profusion of salmon-pink flowers.
Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spires (Blue Spires Russian Sage) is the best large growing Russian Sage selection blooming with dark blue flower spikes appearing in mid-summer. Thought to be a hybrid of two species, this plant has amazing vigor and blooms for many months.
Plant low-water plants when there is adequate water to help get them established. Planting ahead of the next drought is essential. It's an absolute certainty that there will be more drought. The question is when and for how long? So, it's an excellent strategy to replace dead and damaged plants in your existing garden with waterwise choices. This will make your valuable landscape more resilient and helps you to appreciate your garden plants' ability to withstand tough growing conditions. Drought brings feelings of despair and helplessness as poorly adapted plants go to the "great compost heap in the sky." But planting now gives you the opportunity to replenish and revitalize your landscape when conditions are optimum.
Plant to defend against browsing animals by planting browse-resistant plants. Hungry, thirsty animals caused more damage to my garden and landscape than lack of water! A scarcity of food in the wild drives animals to feed on our domestic plants as a last resort. When choosing new plants, observe the plants around town that avoid animal damage, as well as seeking out less familiar plants that are recommended as browse-resistant. When drought returns, a combination of well-established, browse resistant plants and the use of deer/rabbit repellents will make a huge difference by greatly reducing future damage.
Revitalize Your Soils with organic and natural fertilizers and fungal inoculants. "Feed your soil to feed your plants" is a basic tenant of organic gardening. Drought-damaged soils benefit greatly when we help to feed the soil's organisms. For example, earthworms need food, and drought greatly reduces available organic materials that fall onto the soil for them to feed upon. So using products like Yum Yum Mix, good quality compost, and Planters II will provide sustenance for earthworms and all the other soil flora and fauna, greatly improving soil health and encouraging healthy root growth so vital to healthy transplants.
It can also be very helpful to re-establish mycorrhizal root fungi more quickly by inoculating the soil with Plant Success. Drought kills roots and damages the root-mycorrhizal symbiosis. Using the powdered inoculants when planting or watering transplants ensures that these young plant roots can quickly connect with these beneficial fungi.
Understanding The Interaction of Soil and Plants as Affected by Drought
Plants and soil have a biologically interdependent relationship. Plant health and nutrition is closely linked with biological activity in the soil. The soil has its own underground ecology, which depends on a vast array of micro-organisms, insects, and invertebrates (earthworms) to decompose organic materials, create humates and provide nutrients vital to plant life. The most overlooked effects of drought occur out of sight and under the ground. Drought harms the soil's organisms and limits the soil's ability to hold water, facilitate oxygen infiltration and break down organic materials. This is detrimental to plant health and the ability of plants to live through the drought.
When precipitation is sufficient to overcome drought, the soil is revitalized as it comes back to life. This is highly beneficial to helping plants establish themselves after transplanting. Trying to establish new plantings in drought is folly. Take advantage of moist, vital soil conditions to get your gardens and landscapes back into shape, filling holes left by dead plants and converting to more regionally suitable, waterwise (xeric) plants.