Drought & Fall Rains

Like most people in Maine this year, (80% of the population), we experienced severe to extreme drought. Our well was not up to supplying enough water for the household and the containers in the nursery. It certainly was not up to watering the display beds. Luckily the sheep were at another location where the well was ample for their needs. Since the display beds were on their own, It was interesting and informative to see that some plants actually did quite well while others definitely did not. Those that were stressed, like the deciduous ferns and astilbes, simply went into an early dormant state and started to drop their fronds or shrivel up in an effort to conserve moisture to the crowns and roots for survival. We cut them back, as it was happening, to help them out. Since no appreciable rain came or was in sight in September, we started to cut back more and more of the perennials. Plants with large leaf surfaces like hostas, Ligularias, and Rodgersias lose water faster than others, and the larger leaves heat up more as well, calling for more moisture to stay turgid. Since we do not have regular hours for the nursery in October, we decided to cut back all but the evergreen perennials. The evergreen ones, hellebores, male ferns, gingers, and some epimediums seem to be faring much better. Probably by going dormant early, and employing the same mechanism that allows them to keep their foliage through the winter and not dedicate. I have full confidence that the plants we cut back will have set enough new eyes, buds, and roots for next season. With the rain we are having now, and watching the leaves from the trees fall, I’m going to offer this piece of advice based on an observation; with fall clean up, many gardeners rake or blow out all of the leaves from the gardens. We never take the leaves out of our display beds, allowing them to stay as mulch and as a natural fertilizer. Considering how bad the drought has been, how dry the roots of your plants could be, and no guarantee of how much more rain and snow we will get, I would not remove the leaves, and let them hold in as much moisture as possible through the fall and winter. If your garden does not have leaves falling into it, I’d mulch it with shredded leaves or another good mulch. Your plants will thank you for it. Remember that this is a time of year when the roots of plants are still very active and will benefit immensely from this rain. I believe it is very important to retain as much moisture as possible in the soil now before it freezes and can no longer accept water.

8 comments on “Drought & Fall Rains

    • hi Annie, so unusual for us to have this kind of drought, here in the North East…we are just now getting some decent rain but it will talk a lot more before the wells and the ground sources are replenished. Trying to consider the plants needs here, watching as they respond to this ‘lack of drink’.Hope your gardens have done well with any conditions where you are! best to you!

    • Hi Judy,
      Most years we do not cut much back and allow for the plants to take care of themselves. This year has been different for many of us.I have several pair of Fiskers…which i like, but a couple of years ago i found this great pair of small , very sharp, clippers. Not sure what brand, they were a bit pricey, but well worth it. two years and not a bit dull. Often, when cutting back hosta or daylilies, i use a good strong pair ( inexpensive) garden scissors. How’s your Fall clean up going?

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