July 2020       Volume 10, No. 6
Drought Special Edition

Greetings, Fellow Gardeners,
In green New England, we can usually expect at least 1" of rain per week to sustain our gardens and ourselves. However, this season, the lack of significant rainfall for the past month, combined with high temperatures, leads me to believe that a drought situation is upon us this summer.

What to do? In this edition, we'll focus on some tips to help you cope with drought conditions.

Roses thrive in late June heat with drip irrigation at the root zone.

Spot Watering by Hand

Nothing beats a walk through your garden, noticing new buds and by-chance color combinations, and providing a chance for general oohing and ahhing over the beautiful scene. You can now also use this time to notice tell-tale signs of drought: drooping or twisting leaves on trees, shrubs or perennials, wilting annuals, and off-color foliage. Some plants may forefit bloom to survive.

Watering Wand
During the cool temperatures of early morning or evening, a watering wand is a handy tool to attach to your garden hose. Like a shower head, it delivers water right to the roots of the plant in need. Fill the wells of recently-planted trees or shrubs and let the water percolate down. It may make sense to spray down the leaves as well and let the moisture drip into the ground; however, let your focus be the root zone.

This wand is also the perfect tool to attach to your garden hose in any season. With its shut-off valve, you can easily fill a watering can at a distance from your spigot. On a low setting, you can easily water young seedlings or newly planted containers safely.

Spike Waterer
I often prefer to use the spike waterer so I can multi-task. This tool also attaches to the garden hose. Point the spike into the root zone of the plant in question and regulate the outflow of water according to your water pressure. A slow drip for 20-30 minutes per plant is ideal. Meanwhile, you can run to the mailbox, put out the recycling, weed or deadhead nearby, or use a watering can or wand on plants in another section of the garden.

Use rainwater collected from a rain barrel for any watering can use, such as for potted plants on a deck or porch.

Drip Irrigation and Automatic Systems

We recommend the use of drip irrigation for all planting beds. It can even be installed in containers, if there is a way to hide the line next to a building, for example. Drip irrigation directs the water efficiently to the root zones of the plants without wasting it. Systems should now be re-set from a spring (less frequent) to a summer (more frequent) watering schedule. Please consult with your irrigation company for more information.

Coping with Water Bans

Has your town already banned outdoor water use, or limited it severely? We at PBOG can help. Our spray trucks, outfitted with 200 gallon sprayers, can bring the water directly to your thirsty garden. We often add a kelp-seaweed-micronutrient powder to the water called Stress X, proven to help revive drought-stressed plants. This is same solution we use when planting woody plants to help them establish.

Contact Reese <> to arrange for this service.

How to Help Your Trees

For any tree planted since spring 2019, a TreeGator of water at set at the root zone slowly drips needed moisture in the right place. Refill the TreeGator with your garden hose. Deep watering with your wand, filling the well around the tree, is also recommended at least twice weekly.

15-Gallon TreeGator


Focus on Container Plantings

Summer Container
If you're reworking your spring containers of pansies, primroses and the like - think about some summertime drought tolerant alternatives:  succulents and sedums (see article below), petunias, dahlias, lantana, herbs such as thyme or rue, and geraniums (including scented ones) come to mind. These plants will need watering probably only every other day.

Other types of plants will need daily attention with the watering wand or can. Remember that a long deep watering is best. And if there is heavy cloud cover, you'll notice that the container may still be retaining moisture from the last watering. Hot sun really dries things out, on the other hand!

Finally, it's a good idea to mulch the container after replanting with a fine-textured mulch to help hold in the moisture. Keep up with deadheading and feed the plants weekly with a slow-release liquid organic fertilizer to encourage rebloom! If you come upon a dry pot that's ready for fertilizing, water it first with plain water. Once that is taken up, a few hours later, annoint the plant with the liquid fertilizer, leaves and all.

In-ground Plantings

We like the current trend of layering plants together to make an interesting, interconnected layer of vegetation. This avoids the need for so much mulch in beds, too! I notice when weeding in these beds that more moisture is retained because of the continuous groundcover.

Here are some examples of layered plantings:  

For sun:
Low groundcover sedums around Tall Bearded Iris or Heucheras; or use in front of sunloving shrubs as an edging plant

For shade:
Sweet woodruff around tall Ferns, Solomon's seal and White Wood Alilaster

Under shrubs:
Vinca, Tiarella, Big Root Geranium, Waldsteinia, Lamium or Lamiastrum

If you're not ready for this look, be sure to mulch your planting beds at a 2" depth to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Without it, the soil will grow as hard as cement. When it does finally rain, there will be runoff before the water can penetrate this hard layer.

For more help with design ideas to create a layered garden this fall, contact Deanna <>

Vegetable Gardens and Drought

Your crops will appreciate a layer of straw or leaf mulch at their bases.  Again, this helps retain water. And bare soil only means a spot for weed seeds to germinate and grow quickly!
Vegetable crops are among the heaviest of water lovers in the plant kingdom. To get a good harvest, you will have to supplementally water this year. Be sure to yank old crops that have gone to seed or wilted out in the heat: lettuce, radish, cilantro, spinach, and peas come to mind. Replant with heat lovers like summer squash, beans and basil. There are also heat-tolerant lettuce varieties such as 'Parris Island Cos.' Use row covers on metal hoops to protect new transplants or young seed sprouts from the excessive heat. Lift the row covers daily to check on your plants and to determine if they need watering, then do so!

Pruning in Drought Times

We will be carefully observing your landscapes and evaluating the timing of our pruning work that usually happens during summer. If a large amount of wilting is seen, we may choose to not prune this year if you lack in-ground irrigation. The spike waterer will be in use as we work, helping plants adjust to this reduction in foliage and framework. We'll encourage you to continue with this watering practice. Should the drought persist, we may delay pruning work on a case-by-case basis for those without in-ground irrigation.

That being said, summer is the ideal time to prune spring-blooming shrubs and small trees, along with boxwoods, hollies, yews, lilacs, leucothoes and rhododendrons. They are all putting on lots of new growth that needs editing, as usual! We like to prune during dry weather, as this avoids the spread of fungal diseases.  

We remove deadwood and excess interior growth to let more light and air into each shrub.

Why do we prune? It's always a good idea to promote better air circulation by removing weak inner growth, deadwood, and crossing branches. This helps prevent disease and insect pest infestations.

We are experts at rejuvenating and renovating seemingly impossible overgrown shrubs. You can trust us to do the right thing, even though at first it may look shockingly different! Remember, professional pruning stimulates the right kind of growth.

PBOG will be bringing out our chipper to large pruning sites to efficiently deal with brush disposal. Woodchips are a wonderful natural mulch for woody plants if combined with compost to buffer the release of Nitrogen. Or they can be used for pathways to the compost bin, woodland garden or other types of walkways. Otherwise, we will remove the chips for eventual reuse elsewhere.

Please contact Rick <> or Kim <> to book your summer pruning work in the coming weeks. You may soon be hearing from them!

Great Online Learning Opportunity this Summer

You may enjoy registering for a new twist on a summer standby that goes online this month. The Northeast Organic Farming Association's Summer Conference will be held July 20-August 9. NOFA is a group of consumers, farmers, and gardeners with an interest in sustainable living the organic way. Workshops have been the cornerstone of the conference since its inception and will now be offered virtually several nights per week in the usual 1.5 hour time slots.  

Over 60 workshops are planned on topics such as culinary herbs, your mind's nutrition requirements, high tunnels, regenerative agriculture in an urban setting, impact of climate change on gardening, and much more. There will be a keynote speaker, discussion groups, and time for social interaction with other attendees from around the region and perhaps the world! You can also choose to view workshops on your own schedule with your registration.

To register, go to 

Plant Pick: Sedums

Sedum sarmentosum

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' with Lambs Ears
There are clumping sedums ('Autumn Joy' and Matrona') and there are spreading sedums ('John Creech', 'Fuldagut' and 'Lime Zinger.') Great in any garden with full sun to part shade, sedums are extremely drought tolerant due to their fleshy, succulent leaves. In fact, a dropped sedum stem will readily root in your garden, making yet another plant. We also add sedums to containers for an easy trailing presence or for height. They add interest to the garden from spring to fall.

Sedum 'Lime Zinger'
Two groundcover varieties are quite evergreen and spring out of the snow with leaves intact: 'John Creech' (green leaves) and Sedum sarmentosum (yellow-chartreuse leaves). In addition, these two work very well on green roof plantings when a light soil mix is used.

Introducing More New Staff

Katie Metzger
Katie Metzger comes to us from Land's Sake Farm in Weston, where she was recently Education Director.  With the move to developing online learning, she decided to stay outdoors and came to our crew to keep her hands in the soil.

Laura Semple is our new part-time Decor Coordinator, responsible for all containers and in-ground plantings of annuals and bulbs.  Laura is an avid home gardener and past president of Groton Garden Club.  In her spare time, she enjoys playing the ukelele!

Laura Semple

Priscilla's Garden To-Do List for July:

Installing Blueberry Netting

  • Keep up with summer watering (instructions here)
  • Lift perennials and trailing branches of shrubs to weed
  • Replenish and refresh containers for summer, adding a layer of mulch to help conserve moisture
  • Begin summer pruning of spring blooming ornamental trees and shrubs
  • Prune to open up boxwoods, yews, rhododendrons and all broadleaf evergreens
  • Deadhead spent blooms of peony, iris, hellebore, columbine, delphinium, rose and other late spring bloomers
  • Fertilize peonies and delphiniums after bloom to promote good bud set for next year (delphiniums may rebloom in fall)
  • Clean up decaying bulb foliage after it yellows and scratch in bulb fertilizer
  • Tie up tomatoes and pinch off suckers to control sprawl
  • Harvest lettuce, chard, herbs and greens in the vegetable garden promptly before they go to seed
  • Replace bitter, bolted or wilted crops with beans, summer squash, basil and other heat loving crops
  • Harvest garlic when only 5 sets of green leaves remain on the plant (usually around July 15) and air dry the bulbs
  • Remove strawberry runners, or transplant them to a new bed (and water well)
  • Topdress the asparagus patch with compost and top off its straw mulch
  • Install blueberry netting to protect your crop from birds
  • Stake tall annuals and perennials
  • Mow lawns high (3 1/2") and less frequently in drought conditions to shade out weed seeds
  • Continue to water lawns seeded this spring and any plant installed within the past two years
  • Make notes about plants to add, transplant or remove from the garden later in the season, as now you can see how much space each plant fills

In late June, we finished up our spring planting season and are now planning ahead for fall installations. The cooler temperatures of September and October make this a second spring, ideal for planting!  Contact us if you're interested in planting this fall. We look forward to seeing you soon in the garden - in the meantime, stay cool and safe,

Priscilla and the PBOG Crew

© Copyright 2011-2020 Pumpkin Brook Organic Gardening, Inc. 
All rights reserved.
(978) 425-5531