Coping With A Rare Drought

By Mary Ellen Ellis | April 26, 2022
Image by KasiaJanus
by Mary Ellen Ellis
April 26, 2022

Gardening in southeast Michigan, I may not be able to grow all the warm weather plants I love, but one thing I don’t often have to worry about is water. Surrounded by the Great Lakes and with a few inches of rain per month typical, drought is a rare occurrence. With a changing climate, though, those of us gardening in Michigan will have to deal with it more often. 

Changing Climate, Growing Drought

According to studies, drought is one of the inevitable consequences of a warming climate. This holds true for much of the world, but national and local research indicates Michigan will also be experiencing more frequent drought. 

Michigan Environment Watch recently reported on the National Climate Assessment and its projected impacts in the state. Drought is expected to be more frequent and severe in the state, threatening vulnerable species and Michigan’s valuable forestry and agriculture industries. 

How I Deal with Drought in the Garden

For the home gardener, drought is much less of a serious concern that it is for farmers and other industries impacted by the change. Still, everyone who grows plants needs to be aware of the potential for drought and what to do about it. When we experience growing season droughts in the area, here’s how I cope: 

  • Let the grass go. A lot of people get bent out of shape when the grass browns in midsummer. They water to keep it unnaturally green. I recognize and embrace the fact that grass is supposed to go dormant at the hottest time of year. I never water the lawn, during a drought or not. I also avoid cutting the grass. 
  • Save water for the most vulnerable. I don’t want to waste water on established plants during a drought. It’s best to use as little water as possible, so I save it for plants in containers, which dry out quickly, and anything I’ve planted recently, like a new perennial or shrub. 
  • Water wisely. When conserving water, it’s best to use it as efficiently as possible. I like to water early in the morning and direct the water right into the soil and down to the roots. Sprinkling plants will only waste water that quickly evaporates. 
  • Weed more. Weeds compete with your garden plants for water and nutrients. I try to weed regularly anyway, but during a drought I pull them daily so that all available water goes to my garden plants. 
  • Add mulch. I already have mulch in most of my beds, but during a drought I add more. Mulch around the base of a plant helps hold moisture in the soil. A little extra, plus some around plants in containers, can make a big difference. 

Droughts aren’t forever, and my garden always survives. As the climate continues warming, I’ll be ready for more frequent droughts. 

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