Weather: the sign of a true gardener

By Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn

If you’ve been locked on local television news weather reports lately, chances are you are a dedicated gardener: Gardeners agonize over the weather.

We wring our hands when it doesn’t rain (“We really need rain”) and we clutch our hands to our bosoms when there is too much rain (“Will this rain ever stop?”). In fact, gardeners are rarely happy when it comes to the weather, as it’s usually too hot or too cold, the ground is too dry or too wet.

What is this incessant worrying all about? In the spring after we have gone through our annual planting frenzy, we look up to the skies, hoping for a lovely sprinkle. When the lovely shower fails to materialize, we lug out the hose to hand water the new babies in the garden, hoping that they will survive until there’s a good rain.

However if it rains incessantly, then we worry that the roots will drown, that they aren’t getting enough oxygen. In an ideal world, we would have sunny days with a good rain shower every third night. But, Mother Nature doesn’t believe in perfection, indicating that we have to be happy with what she deigns to give us.

So what is a gardener to do?

If there’s too much rain, resulting in puddles in the garden, a gardener must add organic matter to the soil. Have you ever noticed in plant descriptions how often the phrase “needs well-draining soil” creeps up? Adding organic matter increases the draining qualities of the soil, a necessity if the roots are to survive. An additional reason to add mulch to those flowerbeds is that the gradual disintegration of the mulch adds organic matter to the soil.

If there is a troublesome spot that always gets puddles that are slow to disappear, a rain garden might be the only answer. There are plants that can survive flooding and drought — for more information about establishing a rain garden see: https://forsyth.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/RGmanual2015.pdf?fwd=no.

During dry periods you will have to water. Refrain from installing a major watering system if you can, unless you have acres of lawn that you care passionately about — but then you no longer have a garden.

My rules for hand watering are this:

(1) Almost all new plants get watered regularly, even those like echinacea that will require little water later on. I water well in an effort to get the tender roots to explore their surroundings and grow;

(2) Water hogs get hand watered regularly. Those plants that wilt when you look at them will get hand watered if I determine that it’s worth it — meaning I derive tremendous enjoyment from them;

(3) Established plants get very little water. Many plants will go dormant at the height of the summer, only to feel refreshed when the temperatures become lower.

Please note that “watering well” requires giving the plants a good soaking. Typical mistakes involve insufficient watering or watering too little too often. You are aiming to give those roots a chance to expand their territory, not grow closer to the soil’s surface.

As gardeners, we simply have to acknowledge that weather patterns do not always conform to our wishes for our gardens. We have to accept that fact and work around Mother Nature. As I keep on stating, our gardens are not natural. They are not creations of Mother Nature. So water when you must, spread mulch around those flower beds, investigate rain gardens if puddles are a continual problem — and be sure to watch the local 6:00 PM news to get that weather forecast.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com.

Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn The Absentee Gardeners
Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn The Absentee Gardeners

By Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn