August. Too early to signal Autumn?

Recently The Goat and I visited Madison, Wisconsin.  We were gone 10 days, that’s it, just 10 days.  But somehow, in those 10 days our yard went from a lush and overabundant green oasis to a dry, yellow, and crunchy yard!  Earlier in the Summer it was difficult for me to relate to the water shortage being felt by many of my friends and family on the West Coast.  Here it rained every day for weeks.  And I mean that – every day for weeks!  It got to the point that locals would discuss and plan things based on when during the day it would rain, not if it would rain.

However, about a week before we left for WI, the rain stopped.  Just stopped.  We went from soggy, nothing drying out, dehumidifiers running nonstop, to no precipitation for over 4 weeks!  Nothing.  Again, compared to some I know, 3-4 weeks with out rain is normal.  But around here, having gone from over-saturated to dry and crunchy, much of the local flora is suffering.  Many of my tomatoes have blossom end rot, a condition that’s often present with inconsistent watering (their calcium intake fluctuates); day lillies and hosta leaves are shriveling up and dying prematurely; annual herbs have simply died off; grass isn’t growing (this is not necessarily a problem – no mowing!); hops are shriveling; roses never bloomed; phlox are simultaneously covered with mildew and turning brown.

Early August, 2015.
Early August, 2015.

As I was tidying up the yard this past week, I started wondering about Xeriscaping (gardening to reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental watering or irrigation) and Rain Water Gardening (gardening to absorb rain water runoff) / gardening in a soggy climate.  I started to wonder how to blend these two seemingly opposite gardening ideas into my urban plot.  How could I use these techniques to help the plants survive the “monsoon season” as well as the dry spells?  And lets not even start thinking about the -25F and wet winters!

I love the idea of Xeriscaping, especially since I’m what I call a “lazy gardener” – I don’t like watering unnecessarily, I’d rather Mother Nature handle that chore.  Most of my flowers and ornamentals need to fall into this category, as I don’t’ think, except for transplants, I’ve ever watered a flower bed, shrub, or a tree.  But I often wonder, how many plants can handle soggy feet AND parched ground in the same growing season?

The easy solution seems to be to go native.  And not surprisingly, the native plants and the plants native to regions similar to ours, seem to be handling this water fluctuation with more resiliency.  Even the young PawPaw sapling, a native fruiting tree, I planted this Spring seems to have taken root and looks to be growing (hopefully it can withstand the upcoming Winter).

But these concepts don’t help me with my veggie garden.  Most annual vegetables need cultivated, and this year the water fluctuations have left my veggie garden struggling.  Sigh.  I can’t simply blame Mother Nature.  It’s my fault that I didn’t get into the habit of watering my veggies, even if it was due to the rain.  Then I went away during a dry spell and my veggie plants were neglected.  So yesterday I pulled up a few veggie plants earlier than usual, tossed a number of rotten tomatoes, and generally tidied up a bit earlier than I normally would have.

I also (re)planted a few cooler weather crops – radishes, peas, and lettuce.  While late season plantings and cool weather crops are common practices among seasoned gardeners, and I often plant late season cole crops, I think this time it was a chance for me to prolong Summer.  Now I just need to remember to water them regularly.  While it’s too late for many of the veggies in my garden, maybe these few can sprout and thrive.  After all, it’s only August.  I’m not ready for the yellows and oranges of Autumn.