When will it rain?

That may have been the name of a cheesy Jackyl song,  but the gardeners of Minneapolis & Saint Paul have been screaming it from the rooftops, when will it rain?   The Twin Cities are officially under drought conditions according to new statistics released by the state.  May was the driest on record since the Dust Bowl and most of the Twin Cities are in the midst of a dry spell that is amongst the worst in historical terms.  As glorious as this sunny weather has been everyone wishes it would rain.

rain-barrelI went to a great seminar early this spring to learn how to make a rain barrel.  Lots of great information, and quite simple to make your own if you have a few key tools.  But unfortunately thanks to Mother Nature, until this past weekend’s glorious soaking, it didn’t do me any good without anything to capture.   But at least we can use rain barrels here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, did you know that in Colorado rain barrels are illegal?

Despite our fantastic recent soaking weekend rain,  there is a prediction of a cool dry summer. So what is the best way to keep your garden going in these arid conditions?

You must irrigate your garden yourself, or risk losing all that hard work and money you put into your plants.  The recommendation is to water early in the morning, and it is always best if you can, to water at the base of the plants, using drip irrigation or a soaker hose, less is lost to evaporation so it is more efficient. Watering at night isn’t recommended as the water stays on the plants and can encourage mildew and fungus.

Soaker Hose irrigationThe other thing that is very important in such dry conditions is a good layer of mulch which will help prevent the soil from drying out as quickly. I use a red cedar mulch as it helps deter pests as well, a good half an inch or more, but cocoa bean mulch is also popular, as is straw or pine bark.  I don’t recommend cypress because of claims of over-logging.  Several other people use shredded newspaper, but I find that can get a little too dense.

The key is to water deeply,  at least an inch of water, rather than for short periods, so that it encourages deep root growth once a week.  A good way to measure how much you have watered is to put out a tuna can, and once it is filled, that is an inch of water.  But in this windy weather, you may find that you may need to water twice a week. Just check your soil and make sure it stays moist under the mulch and look at your plants, they will tell you if they need water, if they are looking wilted or lifeless: time to water.

Pots and containers require more frequent watering, some maybe daily, because, although it hasn’t been terribly hot, they have a tendency to dry out quickly especially on these blustery days. Very Blustery Day

For a guide to garden watering see this handy sheet by The Green Institute’s GardenWorks.

Although this past weekend of soaking rain has helped, without a few more days of it, water bills may be taking a good hit this summer,  another great reason to invest in rain barrels, or perhaps look into how to do a rain dance.

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