Thursday, September 8, 2016

Coming through a Drought: the loses, the surprises, and the things I learned

Here we are in early September. It is 30+ degrees today and it hasn't rained in over a week. Normally the heat and the lack of rainfall might not be so bad, but most of the spring and pretty much all of the summer has been hot and dry, dry, dry!

Usually I have to do some watering each August, which tends to be dry month, but this summer I have had to water for most of the late spring and summer.

The front garden minus the picket fence which is still patiently waiting to be painted. To tell the truth, the garden looks a bit messy without the fence to provide a backdrop.

Standing tall, with pale pink flowers and a red eye, is a Rose of Sharon. The warm blue spires are an Agastache 'Blue Fortune'. Below it, with tiny blue flowers, is a Calamintha.

Rose of Sharon with Calamintha below it.

 In the middle distance is a white Potentilla (read more about this shrub here). In the far distance is Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum 'Northwind'.

The window box just inside the back gate needs watering daily.

A hazy view of the back garden.

One of my favourite containers and a snail I got at the Dollar Store.

Another hazy view of my four raised beds (hidden under foliage) and two of the dogs.

Scrap with Piper in behind.

This watering can which I planted up in this post has held up fairly well.

Phlox paniculata 'Pixie Miracle Grace' is a nice dwarf variety of Phlox.

The circular garden at the back of the yard.

Sedum lining the walkway into the centre of the circle garden.

Sedum Matrona and Rudbeckia

I try to water deeply rather than frequently. I reason that nature doesn't provide rainwater everyday, so why should I?

Usually I start early in the morning at the very back of the yard and shift the sprinkler around the garden over a period of several hours. This means dragging a hose out a little over 100 ft to reach the very back of the yard. Thank goodness the front garden is fairly small in comparison!

But despite my efforts to keep the garden green, there has been losses. Just look at my poor Ostrich Ferns! Generally speaking, ferns throughout the garden have suffered.

 But despite appearances, there is still some hope for effected plants...

Phlox paniculata 'David's Lavender'

The hose doesn't easily reach this particular Phlox. This is how it looked in better days and here is what it looked like at the beginning of August:

Phlox paniculata 'David's Lavender'

I was worried I had lost it. Amazingly enough, the roots held on to wait until we had a little rain mid-August.

Phlox paniculata 'David's Lavender' on the left and Phlox paniculata 'David'

And now there is fresh growth (see picture on the left). It seems the growth above ground was sacrificed to keep the roots below ground alive.

One odd thing: the white phlox that you see pictured on the right is adjacent to the one that nearly died. The white phlox is doing well and is even blooming. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the two phlox are cousins: Phlox 'David's Lavender' and Phlox 'David'.

There have been a few surprises as well. A trio of slow-to-establish, early spring bloomers: Gas Plant (Dictamnus fraxinella), False Indigo (Baptisia) and Blue Star (Amsonia) haven't had a bit of extra water and they have come through the drought like real troopers.


Another surprise is that some varieties of a plant have faired far better than others. All Astilbe like soil conditions to be on the most side, but some cultivars appear to fair better in a drought than others.

Usually I struggle to get any of my Astilbes through the driest part of a summer. I was thinking of giving up on Astilbe altogether, but recently I added several cultivars with larger, lighter green leaves and they are surprisingly okay.

A more healthy Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford' (on the middle-right) 
in Chen's garden in Milton, Ontario

This discrepancy is also true of my two Ligularia. Again, all Ligularia like moist soil, but one variety is doing okay while the other has all but disappeared. The darker Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford' is still rather sad, but it has faired much better.

The lesson I take away is that not all cultivars are created equal when it comes to drought. Don't write-off growing a certain type of plant until you have tried a few different varieties.

Here is a list of perennials that have really suffered:

• Astilbe (all the darker-leafed varieties have all but disappeared)  
• Betony (has looked woeful unless watered regularly)
• Japanese Ferns (have all died back, but are recovering)
• Ostrich Ferns
• Peonies (often look wilted)                                
• Daylily ( are more sparse than usual)
• Primrose (looked sad most of the summer)
• Phlox (wilted or dead looking unless watered)
• Joe Pye Weed (half its normal height)
• Parsley (very poor harvest)
• Japanese Forest Grass (sad)
• Sweet Cicely
• Hellebores
• Primroses
• Hostas in too much sun

Here is a list of plants that have done fine:

• Euphorbia
• Baptisia
• Dainthus
• Monarda
• Agastache
• Gas Plant
• Blue Star
• Ornamental grasses
• Turtle Head
• Goat's Beard
• Meadow Rue
• Iron weed
• Yarrow
• Sedum

You may remember how I planted up this strawberry hanging basket. Despite regular waterings it couldn't take the dry weather. So moved it to a new spot were it gets morning sun and light afternoon shade. It's recovered beautifully.

The lesson I take away here is to move (if possible) a plant struggling in drought to a spot that offers some relief from the sun's hottest and most drying rays.

Freshly watered birdbath planter (how to here).

Overall this summer has been a bit of a harsh reality check. Sadly, global warming is upon us! I am now thinking that there are some plants that I am not going to be able to grow.

This breaks my heart a little bit because, I have always loved interesting and unusual plants. If I plant likes more moisture than my small part of Southern Ontario affords, I have always been willing to do a little coddling just for pleasure of having a few special things in my garden. With the garden as a whole now requiring regular watering, I am questioning how practical it is to continue to have plants that don't fit with the new reality.

Who wants to be faced with an unhappy looking plant? Surely it is better to work with the existing environmental conditions than to fight them.

I just hope we all get smarter, so global warming doesn't get any worse!

More Information and Links:

A Few Water Wise Tips:

• Water in the early morning when temperatures are cooler and the sun is lower in the sky for less water evaporation.

• If you improve your soil with compost, the organic matter will slow down the movement of rainwater through the soil allowing plants to get what they need.

• Mulch also helps to slow moisture loss from the surface of the soil.

• Keep weeds at bay. You don't want your garden plants competing with weeds for moisture!

• If you can afford it, a drip irrigation systems will deliver water right to the soil. Much of the water from a traditional sprinkler system evaporates into the air.

• Think about collecting rainwater in a water barrel.

• Group plants that like moist conditions together to make watering faster and easier.

• Healthy plants require less waster! Feed the soil with compost, well-rotted manure or leaf mould for happier, healthier plants.

• It is making more and more sense to choose drought tolerant perennials and shrubs. Plants that are native to your area are also a good option as they are adapted to your region's climate conditions and soil.


  1. Oh, how I love seeing Scrap and Piper here!!
    They are such beautiful dogs, Jennifer.
    Your summer sounds very much like ours. I've had to water almost every night for most of the late spring and summer. Right now, we are in the middle of what looks to be more than 2 weeks without rain. The plants are doing okay (not much different than any other end of summer), but our pond is down about a foot, and I'm a little concerned about the fish. Hopefully we'll get some rain soon.

    1. Thanks Lisa. Piper has adored Scrap since the moment we got him. Poor old Scarp puts up with a lot of love sometimes.
      I hope you get some rain for your pond this fall. We are toying with adding a pond. Maybe not next year, but hopefully the year after.

  2. Your garden looks lovely in-spite of the causalities. The dogs look happy out exploring. Your watering tips are great. I am having the totally opposite problem. We have had a very wet spring and summer. I have had many plant drown in our heavy clay soil. Would love to send the rain to you. We have also lost 2 months of work due to rain! Had one charming client send us a picture of the big puddle in her back garden were we are putting in a pond and had already been digging. The caption...thanks for the great water feature.

    1. Actually we finally did get some rain, but feel free to send more this way. We are in a deficit position here! Your retelling of the water feature story made me chuckle, but I am sure it wasn't so funny in real life.

  3. We're much like you here int he western half of Virginia... lots and lots of hot, and not much rain. I'm seeing some damage and hurt, but luckily most of the garden is in partial shade because of mature trees. Interesting that several in your list of successful plants are ones that I've seen moist soil recommendations for. In fact I hesitated to plant a couple of them because of that! I may just rethink the monarda and turtlehead!

    1. Placement in the garden has a lot to do with the Turtleheads success. I am trying to think... the Turtlehead does not get a full day of sun. I think it is somewhat shaded in the afternoon. The native Monarda is much shorter this year (full sun at the front). The other varieties dotted here and there have been fine with periodic watering. I find that if something likes moist soil it often needs part-sun in the hottest part of the afternoon.

  4. Jennifer, I am so impressed with Scrap and Piper! My lab never quite got the "stay on the path" command.

    1. Don't be fooled into thinking they have good garden manners Annie. It more a matter of avoiding the raised beds and taking the path of least resistance! Just let Scrap catch a squirrel out of the corner of his eye and good behaviour goes out the window.

  5. We had a terribly dry summer as well. I normally don't water--I rely on heavy mulches, but when you have sand and it doesn't rain for weeks, well, water we must!

    Your garden looks amazing, despite the challenges of this year.
    And I agree--with the ever changing climate, a lot of us have to rethink things.

    Happy Fall

    1. Happy fall to you too Sue! I rely on mulches too. Especially to keep weeds at bay.
      It's sad that we have to rethink things, isn't it? Global warming actually doesn't seem to describe the weather these days. Global "extremes" seems to better describe the wild mood swings in the weather. According to the Farmer's Almanac a winter with below normal temperatures and lots of snow will follow this hot, dry summer. How I hope the Almanac has got it wrong!

  6. It's the summer of strange weather. Your perenials suffert from drought and I have to teach mine to swim. I lost this year all my campanula's, geranium's, echinacea's because of the extreme amount of rain we had in the winter and early springtime. And at the moment that temperatures should be down to autumnlevel we have hot summer weather. Your dogs are so gorgeous. My dog Vito loves to dig out my roses and chew on the wood. He does not stay on the grasspath. Your dogs behave better.
    Have a wonderful weekend ahead Jennifer.

    1. They aren't as well behaved as they seem Marijke. They aren't so unlike Vito. Piper loves to chew things- although it tends to be shoes!
      I wish we had a share of some of your rain here. September is continuing to be hot, but at least we have had a couple of days of rain. Hopefully it will be a more balanced month.

  7. Your garden looks very good in spite of your lack of rain, or maybe it is your attention with the sprinkler that makes it look so good. We have had a few losses too, but at least we don't suffer from your high temperatures. I think your ferns will re sprout next year, if not before, hopefully they will be ok.

    1. I think you're right Pauline. The ferns have just gone dormant and will be back next spring. The garden would have been in bad shape is I hadn't done any watering. Generally I have been watering every 3 or 4 days and some things like containers daily.

  8. You must have pockets of moisture in your garden for the monarda to have fared well. They're water hogs. But phlox are water babies, too, and I have some that are also doing poorly. But they usually come back. I'm surprised the parsley hasn't done well. They like hot, dry weather. Next summer it will probably rain every day....

    1. I rather regret making the list. There are always a number of factors at play in the success or failure of any plant.
      One thing I did discover this summer was a moist area. I now now where the septic bed is! I was amazed at the success of one of my ferns, a cimicifuga, a hydrangea and a patch of grass. Then I realized that was the area where the septic field must be in the yard.
      The monarda is in numerous places. When I was adding it to the list I was particularly thinking of a purple variety: Monarda 'Purple Rooster'. It was so gosh darn pretty this summer! I have this Monarda in two places. The plants did get some water, but the soil itself is not moist in either area. Both places get a little light shade, so perhaps that helps. The native Monarda, Monarda fistulosa is half the height it was last year, but I also moved it last fall. It's in full sun and did fine with periodic watering. I also have a raspberry variety as well. It did better where it gets light shade in the afternoon. Another pink variety in full sun didn't do all that well.
      No idea why the parsley didn't do well. I usually have good luck with it.

  9. So sorry to hear that you are in drought, although your garden is still looking gorgeous, colourful and green by Australian standards. We had drought conditions for many years, and it certainly made me realise how precious water is. I've always enjoyed the photos of your garden, so I hope you get rain in abundance...soon!

    1. Thanks Gerrie! We did get some rain last night and a little this morning. I am just hoping for some more moderate temperatures now!
      I think you're right. Drought does make you appreciate water.

  10. First I have to say Jennifer ... I absolutely love that birdbath planter .. it is perfect! .. love seeing the boys .. they are so sweet looking ! .. a real help in the garden too ? LOL
    If it wasn't for the sprinkler system I am sure my gardens would be near death .. I just didn't have a good year at all for keeping up with the garden the way I usually do .. funny enough I dumped my parsley plants early too, the didn't do well either.
    Even my dill was a disappointment ... I thought it would thrive with the heat and dryness (to a point) ... the sweet peas did well but I needed to tidy up so they were yanked out of the garden ... soon my bulbs will be coming to plant ... I hope I can rally by then.
    This was a great post on finding out what worked for you this year and what didn't and how we think of our gardens for next year from these experiences.
    Thanks !
    Joy : )


Apologies, comments are disabled at this time.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.