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Water Deeply, Not Frequently

Felder Rushing

Donuts on Cake

Getting the garden ready for summer means planning ahead to lessen stress on both plants and ourselves. Here are a few easy workarounds that help my garden survive what is headed our way.

And it needs help. For fifteen summers my partner and I have tended our overstuffed Mississippi cottage garden in the easy spring and fall, then we traipse over to our Victorian terrace house in Lancashire, England, to cultivate culinary herbs and succulents through cool summers and surprisingly mild winters. Our horticultural dream is a nightmare for whichever garden has to fend for itself for months at a time.

Luckily we both champion both stalwart native plants and tried-and-true cottage garden heirlooms, all proven durable through thick and thin weather and few pests. Even our favorite indoor potted plants, mostly succulents, are survivors that tolerate neglect.

Over the winter isn’t so much of a challenge because there is usually plenty of rain. While I do miss my early paperwhites, jonquils, flowering quince, and mahonia, there are other beauties, including seasonal herbs and veggies, that don’t mind midwinter cold in the least, so I can enjoy their earlier and later winter shows.

But summer is a whole ‘nother thing. While I have a lot of perennial plants that thrive Mississippi’s Dog Days, I have a reduced palette of summer annuals that will survive; my workaround for home-grown tomatoes is to plant in March and September and be prepared to cover during early and late frosts. And depend on the farmers’ market for whatever I can’t grow myself.

So, the number one way to reduce both winter and summer issues is to choose from the many good plants that, from having watched them in other gardens for decades, I know will stand up to our weather. There is an astounding variety for year-round beauty and low maintenance; for my free lists, go to the website called and click on “email me.”

Sorry to say, this sometimes means being cruelly disciplined. Can’t grow them all, and I don’t succumb to plant lust, so for those beauties that simply can’t take the neglect, I have learned to just say no. I admire them in other gardens, and go home to my faithful flock.

There are some other old-hand techniques for bountiful gardens, still used world-wide, but which I was fortunate to learn from my horticulturist great grandmother. She personally tended an award-winning garden, enjoying birds and butterflies, fresh cut flowers, and both fresh and preserved fruits and vegetables long before water hoses and gas-powered lawn mowers came around.

Following her lead, I dig wide holes, with just a little compost or other organic matter added to the native dirt; small holes and overly prepared soil dry out too quickly. I mulch everything, including potted plants, with bark to keep soils cook and moist, while reducing weeds. And I always loosen potting soil and roots when I plant. Always. Fertilize lightly to reduce lush, thirsty growth.

Big tip on watering: Train roots to grow deep - water thoroughly, maybe twice a few minutes apart, rather than frequently, and let the top few inches dry between soakings. Especially potted plants.

Lawn care? Two words: Mow high. Believe it, like it or not, this is the best defense against drought and weeds. See for yourself in older neighborhoods where there is no irrigation, just infrequent mowing on the high side.

So that’s it. Good plants, wide holes, a little compost, mulch, and infrequent deep watering. These will tide my garden over til fall. Those that can’t make will get replaced by those that can.

Donuts on Cake
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