Work organic matter into soil to fight drought's damage

GARDEN Q&A

September 08, 2007|By Ellen Nibali and David Clement

I need to replace plants I lost to drought this summer. Is there some way to improve survival odds? Drought-proofing?

Organic matter in soil acts like a sponge, holding water for plants to use. It also loosens the soil, so rainfall and oxygen can get into the soil and down to roots. Working a composted product into the whole planting bed is better than just adding it to the planting hole. Don't go overboard with the organics, though. Five percent organic matter is considered a good soil.

After planting, remember to supplement rainfall when necessary for at least two years. Watch out for unexpected fall or spring droughts. Never let your plants be caught in winter's frozen ground when they have no moisture around their roots. Other than a liquid starter fertilizer at planting time, hold off on the fertilizer. Mulch your plants, and avoid compacting soil around the root zone.

For more information, read our publication Planting Tips for Trees and Shrubs.

Is it too early to plant grass seed? I know fall is the best time.

Plant away. You could have begun as early as late August, when the evenings start to become cooler.

Tall fescue, the best grass for Maryland, is a cool-season grass, and it thrives in the summer-warmed soils and cool temperatures of fall. The earlier in fall you plant, the longer the newly seeded lawn has to develop a good root system before winter.

Checklist

Propagate herbs by 6-inch stem cuttings, removing all but the top leaves.

Avoid spraying pesticides around your pond. Aquatic plants and animals are very sensitive to chemical sprays.

Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and David Clement is the regional specialist. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's "hotline" at 800-342-2507 (8 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Friday) or e-mail plant and pest questions through the "Send a Question" feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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