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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Will 2013 be Another Dry Gardening Season?

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

Gardeners were really glad to see the cooler weather and some rainfall at the end of the 2012 gardening season. The question is whether or not 2013 will be any better. For a lot of areas in Illinois, the usual fall rain did not materialize and through mid-January snow has been scarce. In a more normal year, plants start the season off by using the soil moisture available from the melted snow and spring rains. Later those plants will rely on the soil moisture farther down in the soil profile. This is why after a landscape plant is established gardeners tend not to worry about watering. As we approach spring not only is the deep soil moisture lacking, but any upper soil profile moisture available will be quickly used unless there is adequate rainfall. If this weather pattern continues, it will mean another gardening season requiring lots of water and close attention to the condition of all landscape plants.

If you are going to replace plants or make a new bed, chose your plants carefully. Match them to the growing conditions so they perform as expected. This will also mean that once established you will not have to provide that extra care just to keep them alive. Don't mix high water use plants that need a constant level of moisture in the soil with those that prefer to grow on the dry side. The sun and shade patterns in your yard can guide your choices as will the realization that those southern and western exposures will be hotter and drier.

Gardeners can do some things out in the yard that are beneficial to their landscapes even if we do get adequate snow and rain from late winter through spring. If you have a compost bin or pile adding organic matter does more than just feeding your plants. Organic matter can hold soil moisture for later use by the plants. How important is organic matter? 1% soil organic matter holds 1/3 gallon plant-available water per cubic foot and a 3% soil organic matter holds 1 gallon of water per cubic foot of soil. Composts can be incorporated easily into an annual bed, flowers or vegetables either in the fall or early spring before you plant. In perennial beds adding composts between plants and letting it decompose working itself into the soil profile is the way to go. On more permanent landscape plantings, the composts can be applied as if it was a mulch layer much like using bark mulch. Just like the bark mulches the composts will break down and again finds its way the soil profile. The third advantage that compost provides is the beneficial change in soil structure. This change allows root systems to grow deeper into the soil, finding more soil moisture as they do. When you combine the availability of nutrients, the water holding capacity of organic matter and the change in soil structure, it is easy to see how this will help plants, drought or not.


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