3 Top Tips For Growing In Dry Climate Conditions

As winter slowly fades, it may not be top of mind, but it’s still wise to remember that Canadian summers can deliver harsh growing conditions.

Stretches of high heat and little rainfall (coupled with the depleted nature of urban/suburban soils) can leave your plants, trees, and bushes starved for moisture and nutrients.

Natural soils are dominated by a dense network of mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial bacteria.

Collectively, these communities of beneficial microbes (and the soil fauna that live with them) are called the Soil Microbiome.

Unfortunately, during the construction of homes, roads, plazas, etc. it is often the case that only trace amounts of the Soil Microbiome survive. As such, the soil we find in our communities (and our gardens) is usually compacted, depleted, and unstable.

On an average day, our urban/suburban soils can barely absorb rainwater, so when the days are long, hot, and dry, the challenge of growing healthy lawns, plants, and trees becomes even more daunting.

Faced with these conditions, here are a 3 tips to help make your summer garden a success:

1. Use an Organic Mulch

Made from naturally occurring materials (like tree bark, clean compost, decaying leaves etc.), a layer of organic mulch can be the difference between a bright summer garden and a sad, wilted patch.

As the mulch decomposes, it slowly adds organic matter, nutrients and humus to the soil - and helps restore a soil environment that can support the Soil Microbiome.

As well, a top layer of Mulch will serve as a guard between the exposed soil and the sun, protecting it from the intense rays and helping regulate the soil temperature.

Mulch also helps prevent excessive evaporation of soil moisture, which saves us from wasting water needlessly. And mulch also prevents the germination of weed seeds (which are always ready, willing, and able to take over your garden).

Another Problem with Exposed Soil

Exposed soil is subject to damage from an unexpected cause: rain. Falling raindrops carry a surprising amount of kinetic energy; the hydraulic force of a raindrop hitting exposed soil causes a crust to form: which leads to rainfall runoff (rather than rainfall being absorbed). Once the crust is set up, rainwater runoff carries fine soil particles with it – out of your garden. (Who knew?)

Soil should never be exposed to the elements; when mulch is applied, the force of the raindrop is absorbed by the mulch, and the rainwater is captured and slowly filters down into the soil below. In this way, rainfall is absorbed and held in the soil.

Raindrop hitting exposed soil

2. Water Wisely

Running your sprinkler during the peak heat of a July day might be fun for the kids, but it’s not doing much good for your garden.

The heat of the mid-day sun is so intense that much of the water spraying from your sprinkler will evaporate before it can penetrate to the plant roots. And if applied water doesn’t reach the roots, it’s been a wasteful use of a limited (and increasingly expensive) resource. 

When conditions are hot and dry, your best bet is to water early in the morning or later in the evening. It’s better for the soil, it’s better for your plants, and it’s better for the environment.

Also, it is not a good idea (especially late in the day) to water the foliage of your plants. Many foliar diseases are spread from one leaf to another by splashing water. A small problem can quickly turn into a big one. So, it's best to apply water below the foliage - directly onto the soil.

A Smart Low-Tech Watering Trick

Rather than using a sprinkler, or even hand-watering, an excellent way to water your garden is by using a Soaker Hose. 

These simple and durable irrigation lines can be connected end-to-end and laid out in your garden as needed. These porous tubes slowly release water right at the soil line. Very little of the water applied evaporates and the water slowly and efficiently seeps into the soil. You can also hide the soaker hose in (or under) the mulch layer. Use an in-line timer to control how long the soaker hose runs - and have a coffee - or smell the roses!

3. Reintroduce Mycorrhizal Fungi to your garden

Of all the components that make up the Soil Microbiome, perhaps the most essential for helping plant roots overcome dry conditions is mycorrhizal fungi.

A single gram of healthy soil can contain over a kilometre of tiny mycorrhizal fungi, which is a good thing because mycorrhizal fungi work in symbiosis with plant roots, amplifying the roots’ capacity to source much needed moisture and nutrients.

Here’s the good news…it’s easy to reintroduce mycorrhizal fungi to your depleted soil and it’s not just a wise move in the face of dry summer conditions.

By introducing organic mulch to your garden…reintroducing mycorrhizal fungi to the soil…and watering wisely, you are also reducing the growing dependence on synthetic fertilizers and taking an important step forward in protecting our fragile environment.

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