Extreme Gardening: What To Do When The Weather Doesn’t Favor You

(Reston) – “The month of June, it is well if it be partly wet and partly dry.” Despite that idealistic statement from an 1854 article on agriculture in The Cambrian Journal, no farmer, in the history of the world, has ever had the ideal weather for a perfect growing season. The same holds true for today’s homeowners.


“Season creep” is a meteorological fact – spring arrives earlier than it used to, making homeowners scramble to protect tender new plantings when a sudden but short-lived frost arrives. This year’s weather changes are more dramatic due to El Nino winds and more moisture content in the air. This is causing severe flooding in some communities and drought in others. In addition, people now stay in their homes longer than ever, averaging 9.2 years in very lived-in homes. So like farmers, homeowners need to figure out how to adapt to extreme weather conditions in order to get the long-lasting and beautiful flower beds, yards and gardens they want.

All plants need the same basic nourishment: good soil conditions, adequate water, sunshine, favorable temperatures and protection from predators. Of all of these factors, homeowners can most affect their soil content.

Good soil is the foundation of a good garden. Farmers know they have to amend their soil through a variety of methods: rotating crops, adding organic compost-type material, adding chemical fertilizers, and growing cover crops. The average homeowner can take on the simplest of these tasks: Feed the soil that is feeding your plants and use a landscape fabric to prevent weeds from taking root and competing for those same nutrients.

Adding a long-lasting organic growing mixture to your garden bed is easy. You can find them at a local garden center or from www.espoma.com. The idea is to make the soil a crumbly texture so that air and water can get to your plant roots and to put organic material into the soil that will give your plants a season’s worth of nutrients.

Adding a landscape fabric to your garden bed will help with weed control and moisture retention. These can also be bought at your local garden center. It is a good idea to check the warranty on this type of product. One brand, WEED-X from Dalen Products, comes with a 20-year warranty.

First, you prepare your soil, then you lay down landscape fabric, then you add 1 1/2 – 2 inches of mulch on top of your bed. Studies have shown that WEED-X does an excellent job of preventing weeds from taking root below the fabric. Most weeds arrive in your mulch as airborne seeds and a few will root above the fabric. A little two finger weeding can easily remove these stragglers. Limiting the mulch to a depth of no more than 2 inches also helps prevent this problem. The landscape fabric will also help with the issue of getting your new plants enough to drink.

Homeowners generally realize that their new plants need more water in the beginning to establish their root systems. If Mother Nature does not provide rain on a regular schedule, it is time to drag out the hose and gardening can. Putting a bucket under your downspout or eave is a good way to collect wasted water to use for this needed chore (and it is probably near the plants you need to water anyway). A good landscape fabric will allow the right amount of moisture to reach your plant roots and will help the soil below the fabric retain moisture.

Homeowners can do very little to affect sunshine and temperatures, but they can protect tender new plantings from sudden frosts. Most folks empty their linen closets on nights when frost is predicted, but there are frost protection covers and blankets specially engineered to protect your plant in extreme weather available at your local lawn and garden center.

And finally, what can you do about garden predators? Good soil techniques do much to discourage insects and fungus from attacking a stronger, healthier plant, and not all insects are bad. “Farmscaping” is a technique to give a small percentage of your growing space to plants that will attract organisms and insects that arrive “with benefits.” Barley, basil, borage, cosmos, rye, and lobelia are just a few examples of plants which can encourage biodiversity by providing the continuous blooms which nourish “good” insects and pollinators at all stages of their lives.

Homeowners will still need to purchase fencing, netting and scarecrow devices to contend with birds and other small animals who are attracted to fruit and vegetables meant for your table. Many homeowners use owls to scare off those scavengers. Read the owl story at www.dalenproducts.com to see how their Great Horned Owl (with either a rotating or solar head) does just that.

The idea behind these labor-saving techniques is help homeowners get to play and enjoy the beautiful days Mother Nature does provide in their easy-to-maintain, but lovely gardens.


All information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Limited consent to preprint or republish this report may be posted, reprinted, emailed or faxed as long as the copyright and credit reflect “Courtesy of Jennifer V-E Johnson and WashMetroHomes.com.”

Courtesy of Jennifer V-E Johnson, Reston Expert and www.WashMetroHomes.com


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