What has this drought taught you?

merj13August 17, 2002

Great to see this forum.

The drought has taught me to appreciate the fact that we've always taken for granted that we would get rain sometime during the year(s). Ultimately, we have no control over when and where the rain will fall.

This year, as the drought has intensified, I've learned more about permaculture and organic gardening. I've learned how to build swales for flowers that need more water, how to make my own compost (to retain moisture), and how to collect water in rainbarrels.

I've also read (on this site) about a nekkid turtle dance. I haven't tried this one yet though.

Unfortunately, I've also learned that you can still have a serious mosquito infestation without a viable source of water nearby.

What has this drought taught you?


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To water my front lawn no matter the cost of the water!
I didn't, the grass is all dead and if that wasn't enough, My drive way has cracked beyond repair.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 9:51AM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

This year has taught me that drought + extended extreme heat = crispy leaves on those poor shrubs not accustomed to it. And this is despite the fact that these shrubs are containerized in plastic or foam, mulched, SoilMoisted, and watered. Last year I used Wilt Pruf on my evergreens to prevent winter wind dessication. Looks like I need to start using it during the summer. Although it seems like an oxymoron to use something like that this late in the summer when fall is just around the corner and when my deciduous shrubs would normally be starting to drop leaves.

I know that alot of people have recommended planting more natives - which is an honorable way to go about it. However, even the natives here are not accustomed to this bizarre weather and many native trees and shrubs have succumbed. Not so much from drought (which many have been through) but to the combination of the heat + drought. Overall, the weather here has warmed considerably on average over the past 40 years and there is not only a non-native, originally less hardy-now hardy cultivated plant creep from the south up here, but a southern native plant creep happening for the same reason - a change in hardiness.

My best plants this year were my tropicals, which thrived and basked in this heat without a crispy leaf and without skipping a beat in their flowering. It will be interesting to see how long I can keep them outside before being forced to bring them in for winter.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 10:21AM
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Frieda__IL(Z 5 - IL)

Living in the country, I don't water the lawn cause of the size and the amount of water that it would take.
I mulched the vegetable garden heavily with straw in the spring and it has paid off tremendously. I haven't had to water and am getting a bumper crop on everything. Mulch, mulch, mulch....

    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 10:22AM
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Drought has taught me to choose my plants more wisely. I've noticed that I'm sowing more natives as the years go by, fortunately, and that I'll continue to do so. I've also learned that by sticking to organic methods, my plants are more likely to withstand these extremes of nature. I've noticed more benefical insects and birds hanging out here, maybe because they have a food source which hasn't plundered in this weather.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 12:50PM
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Sherrie_Florida(Z9 FLORIDA)

We had a three year drought and now 50 days in a row we have had rain. Even sand gets so wet the water doesn't
just disappear because everytime it begins to dry, MORE RAIN.

I learned (during the drought) to use heavy mulch. I also learned that I did not have to water 5 or 6 days a week as restrictions were for 2 days only and between 4a.m. and 8am

You'd better have a sprinkler system for that timeframe.

Even after the 50 days of rain, we will still be on the
water restrictions, but I found that 2 days a week is
actually enough and I will continue that even if the
restrictions are repealed.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 2:12PM
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maggieredwing(SE PA)

The drought has also taught me to go with the hardy plants that like the heat and to adopt the native plants. I agree that straw mulching will prove beneficial to the food crops. Just harvested potatoes this a.m. and got about 2 bushels. The straw at the bottom of the hilled mounds was still wet. Have taken down all of the veggie gardens since they are just spent. Did fill a freezer with the bounty.

We need to conserve water and rain barrels are a real help and use the dish water to water annuals. Keep showers to minimal water and remember to really conserve. Even with a spring house and sitting on a property that has over 10 springs I still practice this.


    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 4:11PM
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To stop trying to keep a lawn. It is simply wrong to waste so much water trying to keep a green lawn. I have learned to plant alternative, draught tolerant ground covers that I think are even more beautiful. We have to change our thinking about gardening.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 5:45PM
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wild_garden(virginia z6b)

one thing the drought has taught me is to never again buy plants sold in containers which are taller than my hand. they just don't ever establish well enough to weather a dry spell. i have planted mature roses in containers, azaleas, rhododendrons, all kinds of shrubs and little trees and i'm just sick to death of babying them all the time. i'm going to start buying very young plants, they establish better, they get better root development, they are healthier, they require less water, and they don't die at the first sign of trouble ... or no sign at all! sometimes they just die! no more buying 30$us large container plants. if the top growth is larger than the roots i think i am going to pass it up. and surely i should have known better, you know ? i mean you go in and pick up a 4 foot tall rhododendron in a 3 gallon pot, surely i should have known that plants like that didn't have a chance of living before i bought them, you know ? they NEVER do well. bare root trees do well, small shrubs in one gallon containers where the top growth is only as big as my hand do well, bare root roses do well, bulbs do well, stuff grown from seed usually does well (once it gets going), and perennials and things like that seem to do well, but older container plants with more growth above ground than below it simply do not ever do well. i can't count (literally) the amount of money i have seen go down the drain this year due to the drought, and a high percentage of it is shrubs and trees and things that i purchased in containers, espensive tree peony which had grown too long in containers, etc. just because nurseries sell these mature plants in containers doesn't mean it's a good idea, it just means people buy them. so that's what i have learned.

over the course of the entire drought from the past three years i have learned the beauty and splendor that is mulch. it is so easy to see the difference between mulched plants and ones that have not been mulched, it just makes everything grow better.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 6:56PM
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stitches216(8/9 Hou-Galv)

The drought of 2000 in Houston, followed by the Tropical Storm Allison of 2001 and more recent heavy rains, have taught me that I could never learn enough about coping with extremes. They have taught me to work like a pit bull to keep every drop of water I pay for out of the curb. They have taught me to work even harder at taking advantage of when rain is overabundant, to capture as much of it as possible to hold for coping during the dry extremes.

Appreciate your thoughts Wild Garden. We moved from Virginia in early 2000. We went through a couple of droughts there in the 1990s, before we were serious gardeners. I think a lot of what you, realtorgirl, Dicentra, and merj13 say is excellent economic advice.

OK, we've been to the moon. We've built an interstate highway system and an Internet. We're on the threshhold of new means of energy storage and propulsion that will revolutionize our transportation and energy usage. What's missing from this picture? An aqueduct system. Forget socialism; this is survival: from each according to overabundance, to each according to drought. Throw water-wise use on top of that, and then maybe we can resume reaching for Mars.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 8:07PM
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Jwj__(Rocky MT 5)

drought has taught me that I hate dragging around the sprinklers to water a fire perimeter,
ok ok so drought is differnt for those of us out west in the mountains,, we have moved up from drought to abnormally dry,,this year according to the drought page,,,,
thats great but we still are sitting with extreme fire conditions,,which means that we have to water the fire perimeter

    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 10:12PM
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Drought has made me really observant about which plants can handle it and which can't. Some things have really amazed me at their tolerance. Also, I've decided that 80% of the lawn is going!!.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2002 at 10:41PM
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Stitches, I'm glad to see your response about an aquaduct system. I've often been amazed that we can pipe natural gas all over the US, but still can't move water from where it is in over-abundance (flood) to drought areas. You'd think by now that insurance companies would have figured out a way to do this just to reduce the billions of dollars they spend in claims every year.
I know flood water would have to be screened to keep debris out of pipes, but couldn't the recepient of water be able to run it through a sewage treatment system to refine it and make it usuable to those that need it? I know this is oversimplified, but how nice it would be if we could have some of your flood waters now! And I'm sure the fire-stricken areas would love to have some too. Over a million gallons of natural gas (from the Houston area, no less) runs beneath our town each day, why not water?
Anyone out there know why this cannot be done? Maybe that's why I'm not making mega bucks as an insurance exec....

    Bookmark   August 18, 2002 at 12:50PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

Regarding the aqueduct suggestions - that is a fascinating and practical idea! You might note that after the terrible droughts of the 30s, thus began the plans to build many of the large regional dams around the country. It would have made alot of sense to create a national aqueduct infrastructure off those dams back then, but obviously it didn't happen.

Like the electric, telephone, and highway systems of the past, the latest nationwide infrastructure being put in place today is fiber optics (for various communications including the internet). You would think that water pipe might have popped up in there somewhere as a critical need. But I expect after those big dam projects of the past century, the idea of revisting "water" was apparently unappealing. Maybe because so much depends on the weather from year to year and the fact that despite the advances in technology and forecasting, meterological predictions are still more of an art than a science.

A shame to live on a planet of 70% water and not have "a drop to drink". As much as the movie critics trashed the movie "Waterworld", there's quite a lesson to be learned in that movie.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2002 at 3:47PM
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To look for drought resistant plants such as stonecrop. I was getting into stonecrop anyway because of its hardiness and varieties, but now I have another reason; established sedum laughs at drought conditions!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2002 at 4:06PM
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Merj13, one reason for the lack of aquaducts is the price. Although you may agree to buy water at 1.50/gal. this year, will you buy it next year when the rain is falling every 2 days and you are praying for a clear day? The pipeline would still be there, still need maintenance, insurance, upgrading etc. Places that have a chronic water shortage (Cal., Az, etc.) do have tremendously costly systems to deliver it at a reasonable price. (The Cen. AZ Water Project cost over a billion fed. dollars. This is money the whole country paid so that crops like cotton and alfalfa could be grown in the desert. Then the gov't pays farmers in the South to not grow cotton.)Those of us who live in the "wet" East only need it when rainfall is very scant, so the cost/gal would be even greater, because the costs would remain steady even as the volume fell.
Yes, the Earth is about 70% covered in water, but less than 3% is fresh water, and a good part of that is in ice.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2002 at 7:16PM
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That if it's a contest between you and a Norway maple street tree, the maple will win. My loathing for this tree knows no bounds. I have a xeriscape garden of all natives about 20 feet away from this tree, and with this drought and heat the stupid maple has nearly killed them. I never water this garden because I know who will get it all. And mulching brings roots faster than watering. Garden was doing OK until this 1.5 month spell of high heat and no rain. Even my sumac looks bad! OK, thanks, I feel better.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2002 at 2:42PM
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stitches216(8/9 Hou-Galv)

I would be the last person to argue that the economics of an aqueduct system are not daunting. But with our population and its needs and expectations being what they are and will remain, there is an unaffordable price to pay for not doing something, too.

Pipelines as we know them are only a simple, convenient first-look way of envisioning a solution to using overabundances to cope with shortages. We have to try things out; economics, like climate change, should be expected to take time, even a long time, to see clearly - and even then, economics can change suddenly and drastically for reasons beyond our control.

But first, we have not even barely begun to think through large-scale ways and means of efficient capture, distribution and use of drinkable water. Believing that to be true, plus seeing the resolve and ingenuity of people in this forum, are why I am encouraged.

I can at least hope that thanks to thinking we do today, my grandchildren will be able to reap plenty of flowers and vegetables in a rainless year - while their cousins collect enough of their monsoons' output for their own future dry-year gardens and ship the "excess" to the cousins in need.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2002 at 2:52PM
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Not to believe the weatherman. I can't tell you how many times rain has been predicted and nothing materialized.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2002 at 4:21PM
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anita(z5 UT)

Choose plants carefully, water deeply when you do (I prefer drip), mulch, mulch, mulch!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2002 at 6:29PM
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Merij -
One 3-foot pipeline can carry enough gas from Texas to LA to supply the whole city. Gas compresses, and is used in far smaller volumes.

If you have seen the size and number of the pipes in the various aqueducts that feed LA, you would understand why we can't pump Texas flood water to LA. There isn't enough room to put the pipes, or enough power for the pumps, or any pkace to store it.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 9:24AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

That buying a vertical axis washing machine was one of my better moves. Back when we were still allowed to "water at will" my neighbors water bills were appraoching $300--and they were watering beds, not lawns! (Our local water company doubles rates in hte summer to "encourage" conservation. Didn't work..) but my highest bill this summer was $110.

That a well established Madame Hough lantana can survive almopst anything--and still look great! (It's in a corner I can't get the sprinkler to.)

That, if you are home to water them, containers are the way to go, because we are allowed to water with sprinkling can or garden hose, just not sprinklers. MUCH easier to water a container with a watering can.

That I am willing to haul my bathwater out to drench my pooor hydrangeas. I xeriscape when I can, but I refuse to give up my hydrangeas.

If it's yellow--let it mellow! (My boys have been practicing this for years...)

That sacrificing chickens and dancing naked does NO GOOD!


    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 10:15AM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

Hey Lazygardens - If you're talking the city of LA... is it not surrounded by hills and mountains? It makes me wonder if there are caves within that could store that water. I understand that there are craters upstate that serve as resevoirs for their drinking water, but if someone can store nuclear waste in a mountain in Nevada, why not water?

Just a thought... ;-)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 10:55AM
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i have learned to give up my dreams of growing moisture loving plants and look towards natives more often when choosing plants.
i am also using this opportunity to teach my children about conserving natural resources and not wasting, ever.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 2:17PM
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eduarda(Z10 - Portugal)

We are *always* in drought conditions in Portugal in Summer, so this Summer hasn´t been (so far) worse than others. The difference is that I now have a garden, whereas previously I lived in a flat...

What I have learned with our Summers is not to have a lawn. When I moved in and started the garden, I didn´t put one, much to the amazement of relatives and neighbours, who think this is the ultimate garden chic ;-) Instead I covered parts with stone, some over cement like the patio, some over soil, and I´m planting some ground cover in between. It´s actually looking quite good.

Because it´s such a young garden, it still requires a lot of water, until the plants are established. But I don´t even want to think of how much water I would need if I had a lawn! Another thing Summer has taught me is to keep planting of new plants to an absolute minimum. It´s almost impossible to keep a newly planted shrub alive with the temps we have at this time of year.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 2:20PM
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JohnnieB(Washington, DC 7a/b)

Next year I'll lay soaker hoses in every bed. It's an easy way to water, and much less wasteful.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 4:53PM
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Sherrie_Florida(Z9 FLORIDA)

Most of you blame yourselves and say what you will do to
change things.
You did not and cannot stop
the problem. Many things are causing these floods &
droughts and maybe we all help a little. We each can do
a little more to help.


The big builders and also the people you and I voted for
are causing many of the problems of nature. Keep cementing
an area and water will not fill the aquifer for later use.
If your city or state can see $$$, they will do anything.

Build, build, cut down all green things and cement every
inch and you will have more and more problems.

Sorry to sound like a tree hugger - animal lover...but I AM.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 6:31PM
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Tree hugger here too. And proud of it!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 6:59PM
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rosie(Deep South, USA 7A/B)

Hello, fellow sufferers. I lived out a seven-year drought in California and moved to the green wet southeast only to hit a five-year-so-far drought here. Something I learned that hasn't been mentioned yet is to zone my garden, clustering relatively heavy water-use plants in one compact area, having intermediate areas that require relatively little supplemental water, and then planting the remaining areas with drought-tolerant plants that, once established, can ride out a fair amount of drought. I would have followed this general planting plan even without the drought here on my little four-acre hill since I want a big garden but not big hoses snaking all over.

A couple of other things. Here in North Georgia, as in most temperate-climate areas, most natives fall into the first two groups and are not truly drought-tolerant, so an all-native garden is definitely not automatically the answer to the abnormal condition of extended drought.

Also, it's helpful to learn about those plants that like normal water but can survive a good amount of drought even if they look awful--in addition to plants like lantana that actually prefer little water and will continue to look good without it. For instance, established camellias and tropical hibiscus watered once or twice a summer during the drought in my Southern California garden to keep them alive dropped a bunch of their leaves and failed to flower much, but they picked right up and were beautiful once again when it was past.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2002 at 1:02PM
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Good point, Rosie. One of the things that permaculture taught me is to plant in zones, with zone one being plants that need the most attention (ie:water) and are most visible from your house. Then you work out further. Now mind you, I have a tiny front yard, but this still works quite effectively. Another thing that I did (since this project required earth-moving/mini-berm-building) is locate plants that need water at the bottom of the berms, drought tolerant plants at the top of the berms, and plants needing moderate water in between, with swales built to retain water, as needed. The 14x30 patch of turf that I still have left is surrounded on three sides by berms, so excess water, if there ever is any, will flow to the turf area. Permaculture has some interesting concepts that have slowed down, but not eliminated, my need to water. If we'd get an occassional REAL rain, I probably wouldn't water at all.
Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2002 at 2:04PM
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stitches216(8/9 Hou-Galv)

Permaculture, zonal approaches and smart contouring are definitely parts of coping-in-advance and coping-forever.

We have at least two enormous "runoff ponds" near our neighborhood. They were excavated during initial development of the residential zones. I call them "Gore ditches" just to be silly. I cannot estimate the acreage taken up in them, but only say they are enormous. I have joked with my kids while pointing at the ponds - saying wait and see, some developer is going to build TRUSSES over those nice, wide-open areas and HOMESITES ON TOP OF THE TRUSSES, eventually, just to pack in more taxpayers and/or free-lunch-grubbers - maybe even fill them back in. But today's joke can all too easily be tomorrow's reality.

The runoff areas are valuable, even despite any drawbacks as they are. But their full value for water use is not being realized. Right now they are used solely to collect runoff, funnel it into the Gulf, and prevent flooding.

It would be far wiser to conserve at least some of that runoff. After all, before the humans came, a lot of it sat on top of the prairie-on-clay for as long as it took to evaporate or (if possible) percolate.

If the developers have enough money to do all that excavation, plus re-grading of the prairie for pavements and homesites, it's hard - no, impossible - to think anything but that they are lying like devils if they say it is too costly to include berms and swales in the preparation of the homesites. Those would just be icing on the environmental/wise-water-management cake - as would modest retention control mechanisms in those ponds.

Now, lazygardens and PennPete... ;-)

One 2-ton truck can carry enough workers from Guadalajara to LA in one trip to build 100 3-bedroom homes in a month. And I have seen the size and number of the pipes in the various aqueducts that feed LA.

Point: there is not a way only because there is not the will - yet. One got-to, or one determined gonna, can wipe out a whole heap of can'ts. Texas and California are out in front in harnessing wind power, so there along with other coming systems is your eventual sufficient power for the pumping. The other obstacles are just fat, sitting targets for destruction by more inevitable, ever-stalking-us necessity. The evolution of water economics is as simple as it gets: either we figure out how to get enough water reliably, or die of dehydration. Next.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2002 at 4:22PM
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Meghane(7b NC)

That Bush needs more people like me sending in pictures of dried up lakes thanking him for the longer growing season because of global warming.

That cacti and succulents are beautiful.

That plumerias bloom when you can't water them.

That droughts are stupid times to try to start cuttings outside (especially when the heat index is 100+ every day).

Some of my plants are doing well:
Lantana, evergreen vinca minor, plumerias, morning glories (does anything get to them?), cacti, jade plants, musa basjoo banana, hedychium pradhani (butterfly ginger lily), my palm trees- R. hystrix, T. fortunei, and C. humilis, crape myrtle tree, mimosa tree, portulaca, crotons, and this is the first year I haven't had blackspot on my HT Peace rose.

The ones suffereing:
Both tropical and hardy hibiscus are blooming, but growth was stunted, same with all my cannas.
Brugmansias are very unhappy and dropping leaves (2 are blooming anyway).
Coleus is OK but needs water once a week at least.
New Guinea Impatients all died. Petunias are being ripped out this weekend for being straggly and ugly despite pruning. Elephant ears are more like mouse ears they're so small.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2002 at 10:26PM
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Not to fight Mother Nature. She'll win, if you fight her. Instead work with her. Grow mostly native xeriscape plants, mulch, conserve, and minimize any areas of water-wasting grass or go with very drought-hardy grasses. And by the way, Texas needs ALL its own water for TEXAS. Most of the state is frequently in a state of on-and-off water restrictions and droughts are common. No real Texan would stand for our water being sent anywhere else (and especially not to LA).

    Bookmark   August 29, 2002 at 3:09PM
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stitches216(8/9 Hou-Galv)

Linda, no issue with your points about fighting nature and planting practices. But you know, real Texans are good neighbors, even to neighbors who aren't so good. ;-)

Sure, demand for water is outpacing supply in Texas, too. But LA is either going to keep getting water from elsewhere, or the LA people will migrate elsewhere, like to Texas, as they have already done in large numbers.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2002 at 8:20AM
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