Water or no water? Some perennials still need help before they go dormant

Backyard Q&A

September 29, 2002|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

Q. Should we continue to water perennials through the fall to help them survive the drought? Or does watering not matter as much when plants are beginning to go dormant?

A. Most of your plants will surely benefit from some early fall watering. While it is true that most plants slow their growth during periods of extended heat and drought, most perennials will not enter winter dormancy until late fall.

I would definitely discontinue watering at that time. Between now and then, you will have to balance the needs or your perennials with both your desire to conserve water and the requirements of the state water restrictions.

For example, plants like day lilies will tolerate a considerable amount of stress and will likely survive the drought. The rain we had recently may well give them the boost they need to get through the fall. However, some of your water-loving plants may not survive without some supplemental water. I would recommend watering the water-loving plants, and allowing the other plants to tough it out.

Q. I usually plant new tulips, daffodils, and crocus in the fall. Given the drought we are experiencing, should I plant fewer bulbs this year? Or should I plant other types of bulbs?

A. If we could accurately predict long-term weather patterns, I would recommend selecting your landscape plants around that pattern. However, we cannot make those predictions, so I recommend planting adaptable plants that will survive a range of difficult conditions.

While tulips, daffodils and crocus would love to have regular water and a fertile, well-drained, loamy soil to grow in, they are generally not so lucky.

They are tough plants that will survive both heat and drought. In fact, in our heavy clay soils, they are more likely to die from excess water than from drought.

I would plant the bulbs as planned and expect that the weather will even itself out over time.


1. It is time to start bringing houseplants in for the winter. Plants should be brought indoors when night temperatures dip below 55 degrees F.

2. To conserve water, consider putting the

vegetable garden to bed early this year. Place excess plants in the compost bin and cover the soil with 2 to 3 inches of mulch.

3. Prevent insects from moving into your home by tightening up screens and by caulking around windows, doors and vents.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Mary-land Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site, www.hgic.umd.edu.

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