2005-08-18 / News

The Island Garden

By Roger Marshall

Apart from the rain we got in the brief thunderstorm

last Sunday night, we haven’t had any serious rain for six weeks or more, and according to last night’s weather forecast, we are unlikely to get more for at least another week or two.

Having said that, it’ll probably rain tomorrow to prove how wrong the weatherman can be. So how do you keep your plants going when there’s no water?

First take a look at your plants. Hanging baskets and containers fare the worst in any kind of drought. On a hot day, the water in a hanging basket will evaporate quickly, so you might want to apply a light mulch to cut down on evaporation. I use mulch in all the fruit tree containers to cut down on water losses and weeds. If you used one of the water absorbent gels when you potted up your hanging baskets, you may have enough moisture in the pot to get by for a day or two. Some plastic hanging baskets come with a liner that holds a little water, so when you buy new baskets look for the liner.

I use 18-inch diameter hanging baskets made of peat moss and I collect pie plates. The foil pie plates are left over from the Key lime pies we make around Christmas — that’s when the Key limes are ripe. When I pot up a hanging basket in late February or early March, I put a pie plate in the bottom of each basket. The basket holds enough water to keep the plants going for a few days.

This time of year, I water vegetables and fruit trees with fresh water saved from roof run off, but flowers, hanging baskets, and containers get watered with washing up and shower water. Water that ship designers call gray water in that it only contains suds and dirt. This gray water is quite acceptable for flowers and ornamentals and helps to keep them going without resorting to a garden hose.

To collect more than your share of gray water, take a 5-gallon pail into the shower with you and let the run off go into it.

Another thing you can do is to mulch heavily. Use your grass clippings as mulch and put them around flowers to keep the ground moist. Eventually, the clippings will disappear, but you will have solved two problems — what to do with clippings and keeping gardens moist.

In your vegetable garden

Dig new potatoes and enjoy. Store what you can for winter, but enjoy them fresh now. I make a new potato, tomato, olive, and caper salad with lots of olive oil that’s really good on a hot day. Clip the slips (flower heads) off garlic to increase bulb size. Keep tomatoes and squashes well watered to help get lots of fruit. Pick herbs and dry them for winter use. You still have time to make another planting of basil, chervil, parsley, fennel, cumin, and dill. You may have to protect it around October, but you should be able to get a good harvest, especially if you grow the herbs in a cold frame.

Your lawn

Unless you have watered your lawn diligently, it will have gone dormant and be brown. If you can, avoid playing or walking on it until the grass starts to grow again. Pull weeds to keep the lawn looking nice when it comes back.

Flower gardens

Most flower gardens look terrible without sufficient water, although hollyhocks, dahlias, and many other flowers are still in bloom. Just keep tossing wastewater on them and they’ll do just fine.

Shrubs and Small Trees

Check them carefully now. Look for dead branches, dead flower heads and water shoots and prune them away now. If you prune off dead roses and clematis, for example, and feed the plant, you will probably be rewarded with a second bloom of flowers before frost arrives. Take this opportunity to check over your shrubs and trees now and correct any errant growth patterns before they require major pruning.

Soft fruits

Check grape vines carefully. You may have to spray for mildew or insects. Pick all the blueberries and blackberries that you can see before the birds get them. I freeze blackberries to use in a blackberry and apple pie when apples are ready. Mmm, delicious!

Blueberries get frozen for muffins and pancakes during winter. I can taste them now!

Above all, have fun in your garden.

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