Five easy steps

first_imgBy Paul A. ThomasUniversity of GeorgiaFour straight years of drought dashed hopes for many a Georgiaflower bed. And last year’s rainy start turned dry in the end,fading late-summer colors as if to add insult to injury. What’s agardener to do?Your colorful flower bed can use the barest minimum of water andstill be the envy of the neighborhood. However, you’ll have toupgrade the way you’ve been gardening a bit.Step 1. There is no downside toadding organic matter to native soils. Try tilling in 4 to 6inches of it and leveling the soil without compacting it. Thiswill help the soil hold water without getting mushy in wetweather.Step 2. Start with plants thatdon’t require a lot of water. You’ll save water. And you’ll saveyourself a lot of time in the garden.Lantana, Celosia, Tithonia, Melampodium, Gomphrena, Dusty Miller,Vinca and old-timey petunias are some of the many annuals that,once established, require much less water than most. Avoid NewGuinea impatiens, hybrid petunias, salvias, torenias, ageratumsand marigolds.Plant as early as you can, too, after the last chance of frost.The more cool weather annuals have to develop roots, the betterthey can withstand dry times.Step 3. Use drip irrigation. Withwater dripping slowly rather than spraying out all over theplace, the water savings are significant. It’s efficient, becauseyou put the water only where it’s needed, and very little is lostto evaporation, assuming you cover the drip line with mulch.Compared to automated sprinkler systems, it’s cheap, too.It’s not that hard to install, either. You need only some driptape, several “y” adapters to take off drip lines from the maingarden hose and the patience to spread the tape out just afteryou transplant your bedding plants.Most hardware stores, garden centers or irrigation supply dealerswill have the hardware and will probably explain how to do this.Step 4. Add more pine straw thanyou may have used in past years. If you hand-place the strawbetween the bedding plants so as not to cover them up, a 4- to5-inch layer will greatly lower your water use. That much pinestraw does two vital things.First, it cuts down on the heat from the sun, allowing the soilto be several degrees cooler. This, in turn, lets the plants useless sugars at night, saving that food for more flowers andgrowth.Second, it keeps the wind from pulling moisture out of the soil.Less heat and less wind means less evaporation. So the water youapply with drip irrigation lasts longer.Step 5. Let the annuals dry outjust a bit before watering. Don’t water every day, or even everyday you can during water restrictions. Let the plants work fortheir water by growing roots deeper in the ground.Each time you water, irrigate long enough to saturate the soilthoroughly. Then let the entire bed go dry. Let the plants get tothe point that the new growth begins to flag or droop in theafternoon.As the plants get older and more established, this slight wiltingwill take many more days to happen than newly planted annuals.The bottom line is that you’ll be watering less often, even assummer heat chugs on.This procedure has worked well for commercial landscapers inAtlanta for the past 15 years. It has been proven to reduce waterloss by as much as 30 percent.It may take another hour to set up. But the reward is havingbeautiful flowers in dry, hot weather without spending yourevenings after work watering your flower beds or sadly watchingthem perish in the heat.(Paul Thomas is an Extension Service horticulturist with theUniversity of Georgia College of Agricultural and EnvironmentalSciences.)last_img read more