How to keep your plants alive during this summer’s drought

The lack of rain is putting a lot of stress on plants throughout southern New England.

Jim Tuttle

There’s no doubt about it: we’re now in a major drought in parts of New England.

While not the worst on record, it comes on the heels of a dry year in 2015. The last time we had a wet year was 2011, so things have been trending drier for a while.

Whether you have a pot of petunias or acres of landscaping, there are some key things you should be doing to get your plants through any drought.

This week more heat and humidity will continue to exacerbate the drought. While there were a few showers over the weekend, it’s going to take many days of showers to begin to make a dent in our rain deficit. The soil in many areas has become what’s called hydrophobic, meaning the soil will actually repel the water. Soil becomes hydrophobic after long periods of dry weather, and soil without organic matter is especially susceptible.

Get to the root of the problem

Watering plants isn’t as simple as just throwing some water into a watering can and putting in the containers. After days or weeks of dry weather, you’ll likely need to water much heavier than you think you should. Check the moisture level of the soil at least 3 inches deep. Making the top of the soil moist is a priority, but the roots of your plants aren’t up there.

Timing is everything

Watering in the middle of the day is the worst time to water. The best time to water plants is just before or just after sunrise. The reason: there is very little evaporation at that time, so the bulk of the water will go to the plants, not back into the atmosphere.


It’s OK to water in the evening as long as the leaves aren’t getting wet. The issue with wet leaves overnight: it promotes disease. If you can use drip irrigation, that will maximize the water use the most.

Measure how much water you are giving

A good way to gauge how much water you need to give your plants is to put out a rain gauge. You should be giving them ½ an inch of rain twice each week, or a third of an inch every three days. If you don’t have a rain gauge, use an empty tuna can: when full it’s about an inch of rain.

This is also a good way to check how much rain fell, naturally. Many times during a shower there is much less rain than you think, and you’ll still need to water.

Lawns under stress from drought should not be fed or treated for weeds or insects. Fertilizer products can do damage to a dormant lawn, and the fertilizer will just wash away when it rains and not be able to be used.

In summary: 1. Water less often, but give more of it when you do water. 2. Water early in the morning and keep the leaves as dry as possible. 3. Don’t fertilize during a drought. 4. Physically check the moisture level several inches below the surface of the ground.


You can follow Dave Epstein and ask gardening questions on Twitter @growingwisdom



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