Drought and the Home Garden

Summer Garden HeatNo doubt you’ve heard that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States. 2012 was also a year of severe drought in as much as 60% of the country. Winter has not alleviated the dry conditions and predictions for some areas see the drought continuing at least into the spring. Lesser known facts: the drought may have done more damage — some $60 to $100 billion worth — than Hurricane Sandi ($75 billion). The drought also contributed to the spread of the deadly carcinogenic mold aspergillis in last season’s corn crop. The fungus is deadly to humans as well as livestock. Scientific American reports that up to half of the corn crop in Missouri was contaminated with the mold. By contrast, 8% was damaged in 2011.

Drought — again depending on where you live — made itself known in your lawn and garden with higher water bills, more pest infestation, and smaller yields. While there’s still some disagreement among (mostly) reasonable people on the causes of our current heat and drought extremes — Global warming? Natural cycles? Some combination of both? — there’s one thing that can’t be denied. We must prepare for more of the same.

Xeriscaping, the practice of wise-water use in landscapes and gardens, has become more important as drought continues. Originating in the arid mountain West, the practice has become more popular across the country in these water-conscious times. Not surprisingly, the most efficient, far-reaching tool in the xeriscape gardeners tool box is organic gardening practice.

Keeping soils healthy and moisture friendly by utilizing compost, mulch, and ground covers allows gardeners to get by with less rain and less watering. Keeping soils alive with microbes and organic matter also helps ward out pests that will attack plants weakened by heat and drought. Applying compost to your lawn will help keep your soil porous and better suited to retaining moisture. Of course, choosing drought-resistant, native plants and keeping lawn space to a minimum are two important xeriscape principles.

Preparing ahead for drought conditions again this growing season will go along way towards reducing your losses as well as you water bill once summer rolls around. Organic gardeners have a head start. But all of us should start now to consider what more we can do to lessen drought’s impacts on our own landscapes. Consider last summer’s conditions as you choose seed for this year’s garden. Plan on making — and using — more compost. Find ways to harvest what rainfall there is. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be surprised with normal amounts of precipitation this year. But don’t count on it.

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