Dealing with the Drought

Sue Bucher
Adams County Master Gardener

As an avid gardener, my thoughts in spring time always turn to what to plant, when to plant, and how soon to expect to see flowers popping out of the ground in glorious color. However, this year there is something else that really has my attention, and that is the drought.

On February 12, 2002, Governor Schweiker declared a "drought emergency," stating that if conditions do not improve and we do not work together to conserve water, by spring we could face the worst drought in our state's history.

The current drought did not begin this year; we have had several years of below normal precipitation. This is a very serious condition and not just for our area gardeners or farmers. It appears the entire East Coast is experiencing drought conditions with Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey being particularly hard hit. Every one of us uses this natural resource, so we all need to be concerned. We use water every day at home and at work in so many ways, and most of us just take it for granted that it will be there when we turn on the faucet. But will it? We need to rethink our uses of this natural resource and change our attitude.

In 1900, each of the 6 million people living in Pennsylvania used about 5 gallons of water per day. Since then, our population has doubled to almost 12 million people, and our water consumption has increased to an average of 62 gallons per day. Part of this huge increase is due to the many modern conveniences in our homes that use so much water like dishwashers, clothes washers, garbage disposals and home water treatment systems.

Awareness is the first step in conserving water. Be aware of the current drought conditions and also of how much water you use, and find ways to conserve this resource. The following is a list of simple water saving tips that will not inconvenience you and yet will go a long way in conserving our precious water supply.

Turn the off faucet while brushing your teeth. When shaving, use a sink filled with rinse water; do not let the faucet flow. Take short showers instead of baths and consider bathing small children together. Rinse vegetables in a pan of water, recycling the water afterwards. Collect rainwater and use it on your plants. Recycle the water that runs in the sink or bath while youíre waiting for it to heat up. If you have your own well, it might be better to wash your clothes at the Laundromat. The State of Pennsylvania has a wonderful web site at www.dep.state.pa.us with more water-saving tips. Using some or all of the tips mentioned above, we can all do our part in helping to conserve this wonderful natural resource.

Hopefully, Mother Nature will be kinder to us in the near future and provide us with some much needed rainfall, but gardeners need to make choices now to ensure themselves the best garden possible this year. In doing my research on the drought, I came upon the term "Xeriscaping." It was not a new term to me, but one I did not fully understand. The easiest way to describe this term is water-smart gardening and environmentally friendly planting based on common sense. In other words, plant what thrives best in our Zone 6 region. Look for perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees and vines that will grow in our soil that require minimal irrigation, resist diseases, and adapt well to changes in temperatures.

Planting and growing water wise plants does not mean that you have to give up beauty, color or fragrance in the garden. These plants with their lush colors will still attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. They are hearty plants that thrive. No matter what the season brings, they will perform.

Some of the more familiar drought tolerant perennials include Yarrow, Butterfly Weed, Bluebells, Trumpet Vine, Lavender, Iris, Gayfeather, Russian Sage, Blanketflower and Coneflower. Annuals like Sunflower, Cosmos, Zinnia, Salvia, Nasturtium, Portulaca, Globe Amaranth, and Ornamental Grasses are very decorative and do well with minimal amounts of water.

Even though we are in the midst of a drought, we can still have a productive garden this summer. Become aware that we need to change old habits, conserve water and plant smart. Start today to help preserve one of our most previous resources, so it will be around not only for this summerís gardens but also for the future gardens of our children and grandchildren.

Read other articles on gardening in drought conditions

Read other articles by Sue Bucher