Last time, I wrote about some of the ways wild temperature swings make garden plan-ning harder. Another problematic aspect of climate change is altered rain pattern. In recent years some parts of the country have undergone catastrophic droughts or floods. I haven’t had to deal with anything so drastic, but I’ve had very dry summers where plants wilted and grew slowly and very wet ones where diseases spread fast and plants grew mold.
For dry times, I’m learning to avoid wasting water by getting water straight to plant roots and keeping it off leaves. For big upright plants like tomatoes I keep the soil right around the plant stem lower than the surrounding bed and water into the resulting ‘saucer’. For sturdy upright plants like garlic, it means running the hose nozzle along the ground between rows of plants. I find that drip irrigation hoses work well for delivering water slowly and uniformly to tightly-spaced, fragile or sprawling plants (beans, carrots, onions, squash...). Organic mulch keeps that moisture from evaporating.
In wet years I’m glad our garden is on top of a windy hill. Friends with low-lying gardens have built raised beds to allow drainage. Spacing plants widely helps them to dry out between rains and inhibits mold and disease. Mulch prevents soil washout in heavy rains and keeps fruit off the mud, slowing spoilage (more on mulch in the weeks to come).
Soil improvement also matters. Clay soil cracks in drought and compacts in heavy rain. Sand doesn’t hold water well. Adding compost creates a loamier soil which holds water longer at a level where plants can use it.
For more information about irrigation and dealing with drought, read the Virginia Cooperative Extention's article on Irrigating the Home Garden.