Focus should be on watering, not planting

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summer 2009 seems to be one we will remember for a while. With no measurable rainfall since June 4 and no significant rain in the forecast it appears we need to prepare and embrace for a hot, dry, humid and long summer. The extended forecast of the National Weather Service and other weather agencies do indicate a slight chance of rain for early next week

Surprisingly people still call our office for advice on what to plant. Here is my first suggestion.

If you are not committed to watering over the next month or so, then forget about planting. Right now I would be more concerned about saving what vegetables, flowers, or shrubs you have.

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Q: What should I be concerned about with my lawn in drought situations?

A: Your lawn will cope with drought much better than your flower or vegetable gardens. If you are concerned and want to water you can water the areas of your yard that mean most to you. If not, simply accept the fact that unwatered portions of the lawn will remain dormant and brown until ample rainfall arrives. To help your lawn cope you can raise the mowing height 25 percent and limit all unnecessary traffic.

Q: If I have to leave town will my vegetable garden survive a week with no water?

A: A good rule of thumb is if you are not committed to watering, save money and buy vegetables at the store. I cannot say if it will kill the plants after one week, they all grow at different rates and have different water requirements. However in these hot dry conditions a week without water can be devastating for many vegetable plants.

Most vegetable plants have what we call critical watering periods which is when that plant requires the most water. For instance tomatoes, peppers and eggplant need water most during flowering and fruiting. Corn needs water most during tasseling, silking and ear development. Corn’s yield is directly related to quantities of water, nitrogen and spacing. Peas need water most during pod filling.

All our vegetables need a minimum of one inch of water a week, best when applied over two or three applications.

Q: What is the best thing to do to help plants cope with drought?

A: Whether we are asking about mature oak trees or a tiny vegetable garden, the best protection against drought is agreed on by most experts — mulching. Although most of our trees can easily handle our current situation, adding 4-6 inches of mulch around their root zone would make it much easier on them. In flower or vegetable gardens adding organic mulch 1-3 inches thick allows them to cope with these conditions much easier admitting watering is adequate.

There is no magic solution to use during these drought situations. We need plants and they need us. We usually rely on them for food, shade, clothing, shelter and other purposes but now is one of the rare times they rely on us.

David Carter is the director of the Adams County Extension Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.