Drought is a harsh word for farmers and gardeners to hear. We were reminded that drought conditions are here in Central Oregon with the recent startling news reports that three major reservoirs are in peril.
Conserving water, not considering the impending drought-impacted restrictions, should be a prime concern of all who choose to live in Central Oregon. It should be simple to understand: We live at a high desert elevation.
According to a U.S. Drought Monitor map issued on May 18, 2021, most of Central Oregon registers as being in D2 (Severe Drought) to D3 (Extreme Drought). Parts of Lake and Klamath Counties are in D4 (Exceptional Drought) conditions.
My mind can’t help automatically reverting to the TV of the 70s and “So—whatcha gonna do bout it?”
There’s nothing we can do to prevent a drought but there are some strategies we can enact that will help minimize the toll it takes on your landscape.
Start by monitoring the irrigation system and where the water goes. Is part of the water going down the driveway or sidewalk? Maybe redirecting a few sprinkler heads would eliminate the runoff. Can you change the timing of your system to irrigate a shorter time span?
Be sure you know what the watering regulations are for your city. My neighborhood is in an irrigation district. Rather than being on regulated irrigating hours, the irrigation should be done early in the morning or early evening when the heat of the day has passed and evaporation has lessened.
Mulching is one of the best things you can do for your garden. A 2- to 3-inch mulch covering your garden can block weed growth, keep the soil moist and as it decays will feed both the soil and the plants growing in it. A general rule of thumb is that mulches and compost are held back approximately about an inch from the base of the plant. The most popular mulches are organic commercial mulches.
For years we have read that pine needles acidify the soil. A two-year study of mulching with pine needles showed the pH of the soil was the same as the reading two years prior. They may not look as pretty but you’ll have to admit they are cost-effective.
It is helpful to stop fertilizing. Let’s admit it — we are far too generous when instead we should be more aware of enriching the soil. Fertilizers encourage plant growth; the more a plant grows, the more moisture it needs.
Removing spent blooms before they have a chance to set seed saves energy for your plants. The plants don’t need to put energy (which they need water for) into producing seeds.
It might not be fun at the best of times, but getting those weeds out of the garden is especially important during drought. The reason: Weeds’ roots steal valuable moisture from the soil. Mark your calendar, June 13, 2021, has been declared National Weed Your Garden Day.
If you are looking to plan a more drought-tolerant garden you might consider some of the following.
Become familiar with the native plants that grow well in our area. “Selecting native plants for home landscapes in Central Oregon” publication EC 1623 from the Oregon State University Extension Service. Here’s some food for thought—In England sagebrush is considered an exotic ornamental. Why not in Central Oregon?
The list of drought-resistant herbs includes most of the common cooking herbs on a shopping list. Chives, garlic and onion are excellent choices for low-water gardens.
Additional low-water herbs include lovage which has a celery-like flavor. I plan to add a container of lovage to my unheated greenhouse for winter use as a substitute for buying celery, of which half usually ends up in the compost bin. Oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme are low-water common cooking herbs that are also easy to dry in the microwave.
It can be exciting to meet new challenges and realize you aren’t part of the problem.