Category Archives: new england gardening

Drought? No Problem. We’re Native.

Late-season-blooming New England Aster, central MA, September 25th

It’s been a challenging summer for gardeners in central MA, where we’ve barely had a drop of rain in months. In my own garden, (with the exception of vegetables and annuals), I only water plants during their first season in the ground — after that, they’re on their own to live on rainfall alone. So it’s been interesting to observe how my garden plants have done in this year’s severe drought. We’ve had dry years in our 11 years here at THB Farm, but this spring and summer’s drought has been unprecedented, with the underground well at our barn dry since July now.

Not surprisingly, most of the eastern native plants did just fine. They’re well-adapted to the vagaries of the New England climate, with some summers a washout and others dry as a bone. The late-blooming New England Aster (pictured above) grows wild in the moist meadows of the eastern US, but apparently it does not require moist soil to bloom and thrive!

Earlier this summer, the Monarda cousins (Wild Bergamot and the red-flowering Bee Balm) both appeared oblivious to the drought conditions:

Pink blooms of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) in a summer with almost no rain

Pink blooms of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) in a summer with almost no rain

We are so grateful for our farm pond, which we use to irrigate our vegetable plants (which are NOT native and NOT happy to live on rainfall alone!). But the native bee balm and Helen’s flower (Helenium autumnale) growing on the pond banks don’t receive a drop of irrigation other than rain, and they bloomed just fine:

Red Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) is native to moist, open areas in the northeast, but will thrive in ordinary dry soil, and attracts hordes of hummingbirds to its bright red summer flowers!

Red Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) is native to moist, open areas in the northeast, but will thrive in ordinary dry soil. Bee Balm attracts hordes of hummingbirds to its bright red summer flowers!

The Canada Goldenrod covered itself in its bright yellow flowers for almost a month, keeping a variety of small butterflies, bees and beneficial insects very busy foraging for pollen and nectar!

Canada Goldenrod is too aggressive for planting in gardens, but if you have a space where it can grow on its own, it's one of the best plants for pollinators, beneficial predator insects, and birds! Goldenrod does NOT cause hay fever, it is falsely accused for the wind-blown, allergenic pollen of RAGWORT, which is the real culprit in fall allergies!

Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is too aggressive for planting in gardens, but if you have a space where it can grow on its own, it’s one of the best plants for pollinators, beneficial predator insects and birds! Goldenrod does NOT cause hay fever, it is falsely accused for the wind-blown, allergenic pollen of RAGWORT, which is the real culprit in fall allergies!

Rudbeckia and Great Blue Lobelia (in the background behind the vegetable bed) are asking Drought? What drought?

Vegetables are still going strong well into September (even tomatoes and cucumbers) BUT they do receive irrigation from our farm pond.

Vegetables are still going strong well into September (even tomatoes and cucumbers) BUT they do receive irrigation from our farm pond.

Fall is here and I’m hoping all my garden friends have had a bountiful and successful season!  It’s not over yet though…fall bloomers are still providing late-season color and nectar for pollinators! Here’s our mist flower/hardy ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum, formerly classified as Eupatorium coelestinum) blooming cheerfully in late September without a drop of rain since late July:

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Conoclinium coelestinum is native to moist meadows from New Jersey southwards, but grows well in New England too. It forms stands from a spreading root system, so plant it where it can have a bit of room.

Fall is a great time to plant perennials and shrubs in southern New England — plant roots will have a few months to establish before the ground freezes. Consider including some drought-tolerant native beauties into your garden now for next year’s blooms, wildlife value and reduced watering needs!

 

 

 

Microclimates…or Garden Hotspots

Here's somebody who LOVES snow...especially rolling in it!

Here’s somebody who LOVES snow…especially rolling in it!

Despite a few days above freezing this week, most of our central MA farm is still under a thick blanket of snow. As I look out my front window, I can see the farm across the valley from us, completely free of snow. Why is that? It’s all about topography and the angle of the sun as it moves across the sky. Our farm is perched low on the north-facing slope of a river valley. The low angle of the winter sun passing across the southern sky means that this time of year, many areas are in the shade for most of the day. Cooler air also settles at the bottom of the valley, keeping temperatures a few degrees lower than the rest of town. The farm across the valley is on a south-facing slope, and their fields are perfectly positioned to capture the sun’s heat all day, melting their snow more quickly. It’s no surprise that apples were once grown on that side of the valley, but not on this side. It’s too cold!

Melting snow can tell us a lot about our garden conditions. Watch where the snow melts first in your yard in the spring, and you’ll learn where the warmer microclimates are. Use them  to your advantage to grow heat and sun-loving plants such as tomatoes and flowering plants that will sulk in a colder spot.

The back wall of our garage faces south, trapping the sun’s heat on sunny days and releasing it slowly overnight. The wall also protects plants from cold north winds, keeping the area quite warm and sheltered. This is the only area of my garden where I can grow Mediterranean herbs that need hot, blazing sun to thrive. A mulch of pea-stone gravel also absorbs the heat, warming the ground faster in spring and helping the crowns of plants from rotting in my high-moisture soil.

So watch the snow as it melts in your gardens, and figure out your garden hot spots!

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