Drought not good for area gardeners

The HeraldFebruary 17, 2009 

They say we could get a good rain tonight. The sky might fall, too.

In case you haven't heard, it's official now. We're having another drought. Nobody should have to tell you it's dry around here. If you doubt my word, quit watering your pansies or try to dig a hole or pull up some weeds.

What's scary is this area was miserably behind on rainfall most of last year. Winter and early spring are when we usually make up for such deficits, but Mother Nature is falling down on the job. (Who knows; maybe she's been laid off.)

Remember when it used to rain two or three times a week from pumpkin pie to May flowers? When kids didn't go out to play all winter without putting on their boots? When the mailman's right arm stayed wet from warm weather to warm weather?

Usually when you see green on the Weather Channel, it's going around us like a collie circling cattle. Last week, I got in a lather when a bunch of weather-map green was headed directly for us. Yelled for Matt to come watch the TV (just like Pop used to call Mom to confirm that, yes, indeedy, the crops were gonna get it this time).

When we could smell it coming, that green stuff parted like the Red Sea, only to reconnect just on the other side of the dot that says Rock Hill. Looked as though it gave Charlotte and Columbia and Chester a drenching. One thing's for sure. It left us bone dry. Again.

Seems to me we should be cutting back on water consumption now. Let's don't wait till summer to start singing the blues.

About those pansies ...

Speaking of pansies, mine looked pretty scraggly after the extremely low temperatures we had a while back. Hardly a bloom to be found, either. I got out the Miracle Gro and fed them at the rate of a good teaspoon per gallon of water. Now they're gorgeous and loaded with blooms. That is, all but the pansies on the front stoop, which don't get any sun till late afternoon. No wonder they're pale and puny.

I've also resumed feeding my houseplants at half strength and they're putting out lots of new growth and grinning again. Back at you, guys.

Some will need repotting soon. This prompted me to check out my supply of clay pots. The big ones that stay outdoors all winter are starting to crumble. Some even remind me of onions; they're peeling off in layers. Obviously, I need to go pot-shopping before the stampede.

Lately, lots of readers are asking if they can make bushes out of their tall crape myrtles. Don't know why they ask me because I can't abide the things. That said, you can buy squatty myrtles now, you know. But that won't help you with your monster myrtles.

Digging 'em up won't help either. They'll come right back. They may show up 15 feet across the way, but they'll be back.

Which is why I usually recommend getting out the chain saw. I'm serious as a heart attack. Cut the myrtles back till they're about a foot tall, then fertilize and be patient. They'll start sprouting and next thing you know, you'll have a myrtle bush. For a while, anyway. Left to its own devices, it'll probably return to tree status sooner or later.

I wouldn't know. I keep cutting and cutting. Pulling and digging too. But I've met several people who followed my advice and they say it worked. That they have turned their tree myrtles into beautiful, bushy shrub myrtles and they're thrilled with the results.

Start your chain saws.

Jane Clute writes about gardening for The Herald. E-mail her at theclutes@comporium.net or write her c/o The Herald, POB 11707, Rock Hill, SC, 29731.

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