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Planning a drought-resistant garden

March 22, 2002|BY ERICA ENSMINGER

Even the greatest gardener may have trouble keeping plants green this year.

With rain a scarce event, garden centers and horticulture specialists in the area are suggesting that people start conserving water and choose more drought-tolerant plants.

"If we don't get any rain, our plants are going to be in trouble," said Richard Zimmerman, a horticulture specialist at the W.Va. Tree and Fruit Research and Education Center in Kearneysville.

For preventing water from evaporating out of the soil, Ed Rhone, owner of Rhone's Plants and Scapes, 1995 Hartzok Rd., suggests that gardeners use more groundcover, mulches and fabrics to keep the soil from being exposed.

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Zimmerman stressed the need for organic material in the soil. "The better supplied the soil is with organic material, the better the water holding," he said. Sources of organic material include compost, manure, and peat moss.

Gardeners may also want to consider more effective ways of watering their plants. Rhone recommended drip irrigation and timers as inexpensive yet efficient ways to water plants.

Zimmerman suggested soaker hoses and trickle irrigation systems. Both of these methods use hoses perforated on the bottom, sending water directly to the root. According to Zimmerman, gardeners should avoid overhead water sprinklers, which waste water by spreading it evenly over the surface.

If restrictions are placed on water usage, there are still ways to get water to the plants.

Sandy Scott, horticulture consultant at the Maryland Cooperative Extension of Washington County, suggested placing barrels at the end of drain spouts to collect rain water.

Both Scott and Zimmerman recommend recycling water used inside the house. Any leftover water from cooking, bathing or washing clothes, among other things, can be used to water the garden.

Scott said that if a plant is well-established, meaning that it has received enough water and has been in the ground a few months, it will require less water than newly planted plants.

However, water conservation is not the only thing to consider in this drought. Scott, Zimmerman and Rhone all suggested that gardeners select plants that are more tolerant to dry climates.

Annual flowers such as zinnia, geraniums, cosmos, salvia, marigolds and nasturtium should survive in this weather. Perennials like anemone, daylily, candy tuft and yarrow are recommended. Bulbs, including crocus, hyacinths, tulips and narcissus, are also suggested.

Trees such as maple, honey locust and mock orange are well-suited for dry conditions, as are shrubs like rose of sharon, potentilla, northern bay berry and spiraea. Other recommended plants include sage and alium.

Some plants to avoid are azaleas, holly, rhododendrons, roses, corn and many woodland plants.

Regardless of the plants you choose, keep the number you plant to a minimum, Scott said.

"Go light on everything you want to plant," he said.

Scott also mentioned that this is not the only dry year we will have and these suggestions should be kept in mind every time you plant.

Erica Ensminger is a student at Hagerstown Community College and an intern at The Herald-Mail.

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