No matter where you go this summer or who you talk to, in this part of the U.S. there is only one topic of conversation: the weather. For gardeners, the tale is one of endlessly dragging hoses around the garden trying to keep plants alive while we wait for rain. We've finally been lucky and have recorded 4.27" of rain since July 18th. The garden has definitely perked up, except for those plants that had already succumbed to our record heat and drought. What future summers will be like for gardeners in southern Wisconsin is anyone's guess.
Paging through my garden journal from last summer, I noted temps in the 90s in early June and more in July. Officially, the total local June and July rainfall was 5.42" but we had about 3/4 of an inch less than that at our house. So clearly drier than "normal" — and most of it came in tiny dribs and drabs. This year at the same time we are about an inch lower in our garden than 2011, with virtually all of the rain coming in the last two weeks after six dry weeks.
Right now I'm looking at my garden to see which plants are doing well and which aren't — relative to the extreme conditions this summer. Then I think I will have to seriously consider getting rid of or at least reducing the number of plants that didn't like these drier conditions. So what did do well for me?
In my full sun and very dry traffic island, Nepeta barely slowed down. All the lily bulbs came up and bloomed and a Pelargonium with splotched leaves that I overwintered did well. And this is one location that I never watered until things were pretty desperate.
Elsewhere in the main gardens, Hostas and assorted Geranium macrorrhizum are all doing fine. My oldest swaths of Epimediums did well but those that were only planted last year suffered. Tiarellas struggled but Heucheras were mostly OK. All the summer bulbs did well.
Most of my Japanese painted ferns faded and flopped and were quite unhappy even though I tried to water them. But they put out new growth the minute they got rain. Interrupted and Christmas ferns did much better along with most of my assorted Dryopteris ferns. Sedges and even the Japanese forest grasses seem fine. I am confident that the things I've mentioned will come back next year — if we pick up more rain and have a typical snow cover this winter. I recognize, however, that is a pretty big "if."
How about you? What plants fared well in your drought-challenged garden? Leave me a comment and perhaps we can pool our information to help us all prepare for a changing climate.
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Two plants that were noteworthy for their stellar performance this summer were Queen Anne's Lace and chicory (in the photo above). All the median strips of grass turned brown while these plants bloomed profusely along the curb. Half the front lawns and gardens in town are sporting these two plants while they've covered whole fields in the countryside. A gorgeous combo but, alas, not one I really want in my garden.
Here are some tips from Olbrich Botanical Gardens on how to combat drought in home gardens. I am already doing most of what's on their list but perhaps you'll find some helpful hints.