City News

Garden tips and tools for coping in drought

July is the month that tests the will of the backyard gardener.

It's depressing to watch the perennials you planted with such great hope shrivel in the sweltering heat while weeds flourish. Due to the drought emergency, sprinklers are forbidden, but drip lines and soakers are permitted, as well as hand-held hoses.

Irrigation can be enhanced with a few simple techniques for harvesting and retaining moisture where it is needed most – near the root zone of your planting beds.

A shallow, narrow trench can provide plants with much-needed moisture. The trench allows runoff from irrigation or rain to collect all the way around the bed, soaking in gradually. Built properly (3 inches deep at most), this seldom allows water to stand for very long as the roots quickly draw moisture into the soil.

Use a flat-edged spade to cut the trench evenly distributing the displaced soil throughout the bed. If your soil is really hard, start with a spading fork to break it up first. Finish by dragging a mattock gently through the trench, forming a flat bottom about the width of the mattock's head.

For gardeners new to the Piedmont, the mattock may require an introduction. A cross between a sledgehammer and a plow blade, the mattock is invaluable for establishing new beds, but must be carefully controlled around mature plants. A single blow of a mattock can hack a full-grown hydrangea in two, so wield your mattock gently.

Young trees and newly planted shrubs can benefit from shaping a saucer-like berm all around the root ball zone. If you didn't do this when you planted earlier, do it now, and cover it completely, but lightly, with mulch.

For beds along a building foundation where a sudden cloudburst can splash Carolina red clay onto the paint, you might want to install a layer of landscape fabric. This porous material allows the soil to breathe, retains moisture, and prevents mud splatters.

It's also supposed to deter weed growth, but our semitropical climate tends to compensate in pretty short order. Pull weeds after rain, and you'll get the root too. Cover the landscape fabric with mulch, not only to improve the look, but to retain moisture and control soil temperature.

All homeowners want to keep water away from the home's foundation to prevent rot and insect infestation. But what if you could capture some of the runoff and direct it to your garden? Grading sloped gently away from the house and expertly installed gutters can assure water will end up on your plants and trees instead of in your basement or crawl space.

In some spots, you may be able to collect roof runoff in a rain barrel fed by a carefully placed downspout. In others, roll-up gutter extenders can send water where it can actually do some good. None of these solutions will work for every location, but a bit of experimenting may reward you with the perfect answer for your garden.