Welcome to The Desert
I don’t think any of us needed reminding that we are in a severe drought, but historic levels of Sahara dust have arrived anyway. The strange effect reminds me of so many odd things like fog in New England to overcast winter days in Ohio. While the Sahara Air Layer (SAL) over us will make the drought persist, oddly enough it helps lessen the effects on our plants thanks to the dust. It scatters the fierce tropical sun that has been sucking the life out of our thirsty plants, reduces evaporation, and surface temperatures.
So how do we get our plants through this desert we find ourselves living in? One unfortunate answer is not all will survive. Those plants should not be replanted in the same spot until rains return and not at all if they were large, well-established specimens. If a large plant succumbs it means it is not adapted to its spot long term and a new plant will probably suffer the same fate years down the road. It’s not worth the loss of years to keep starting over so now is the time to reevaluate what you have planted or are planning to plant.
But if you’re like me, the plan is to save what can be saved. I do a walk around almost every morning to evaluate the garden’s condition. Wilted foliage in the morning is a serious warning sign as opposed to wilting in the afternoon which is often temporary. I think we all wilt a bit in the afternoon.
Watering is most effective in the late afternoon/early evening and least effective when the strong sun is shining on the plant in question. Still, I have often seen a crashing garden plant, given it a lifesaving drink midday and then a deep watering late day. Remember to wet the stems, bark, and leaves when doing a deep watering.
As the ground gets ever dryer, it takes more water to do the same job. The best method is to water normally and then return a day later and do it again rather than double the amount in one go. If a small plant is having an especially hard time, cut a teepee of Tantan to place over it as a way to cut sunlight. Remember to water more on the uphill side of the plant since water will keep moving past the roots longer. Soapy, dirty water is a lot better than no water so empty such buckets on a plant.
Keep up the good fight and just remember we are all in the same desert.
Executive Director, St George Village Botanical Garden
Augusta rivalis is a beautiful plant native to Belize (old British Honduras). The species name, rivalis, refers to a habitat near rivers and streams. The Naples Botanical Garden shared this endangered plant with us and it is in full bloom now in the visitor center fountain. We could not get the plant to survive in our periodically droughty ground so we tried the fountain. The success of this adds to knowledge about the plant since it was not known if it could grow permanently in water. This is what botanical gardens do so well, experimentation. Water gardens are better in droughts than normal gardens since water levels can lower a bit without problems. But you can’t always know a plant in the ground is at a critical point water-wise until it turns brown.