Nate discusses gardening and landscaping during drought, and shares updates on the podcast.

In this bonus episode of Granite State Gardening, Nate Bernitz discusses the drought, both of podcast episodes and rainfall.


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Nate Bernitz  0:00  
Greetings Granite State gardeners, I'm Nate Bernitz with UNH Extension. What was supposed to be a short break turned into something longer. I've been busy gardening and helping gardeners in all the ways we do, and I know you've been busy in your garden in what's been a strange year in so many ways. Even though we've experienced drought and unusual weather has become the usual, gardening has really been a North Star for so many people. It's a constant: saved seeds are seeds planted; building soil is a meandering, but yearly process; weeds grow; plants and insects return in the spring. And all you learned last year and in years prior coalesce into your approach and a long awaited growing season after New England's long, cold winter. Yet this podcast feed has been eerily quiet. Let me explain just enough to make sense of it. Emma Erler, my co-host in season one, moved on from Extension in the spring to a really exciting new professional opportunity. I was never going to do this podcast on my own and we were never going to be okay putting just anybody in the coho seat. That wouldn't be fair to you. So we're searching not just for a podcast host but for someone actually two someones to join our home horticulture team at UNH Extension full time. They will not only get to be the voice of Granite State Gardening, but lead gardening and landscaping education and outreach here in New Hampshire. That means everything from workshops and our demonstration garden, to supporting our community of Master Gardener volunteers, to answering questions from gardeners and of course, producing videos and podcasts. If that appeals to you or makes you think of someone you know, the position description for the future host of Granite State Gardening is in the show notes.

Nate Bernitz 1:59
I do want to talk about this year's drought though. Not only does that mean significantly less rainfall, but it means lower rivers and lakes, diminished aquifers and wells, outdoor watering restrictions for those on public water, and revelations about which plant and animal species are tolerant of these harsh conditions and which falter. One of the most obvious casualties are cool season turf grasses, the ones that are the foundation of traditional lawns. These grasses naturally go dormant during hot and dry weather but typically rebound in the fall unless a drought is severe enough. We know there are practices that can help your lawn get through droughty summer conditions like mowing higher (that means at least two and a half, three inches) and mowing with sharp blades. You should really get those blades sharpened annually. We know that during hot and dry weather, particularly if you're not providing supplemental irrigation. applying fertilizer can do more harm than good. The particular issue with fertilizer is nitrogen, which is one of those three macronutrients prominently labeled on every bag. Nitrogen promotes new green growth, and that new green growth is much less drought-tolerant than mature grass. But one macronutrient, potassium, is actually very important for drought tolerance of grasses and other plants in your yard and gardens. New England soils are often naturally deficient in potassium, so adding it supplementally or choosing fertilizer products with higher proportions of potassium can be helpful. Of course, do so in accordance with your soil test results. Trees and shrubs can also show obvious and subtle impacts from drought. Obvious symptoms can include wilting leaves, leaf scorch and leaf margins, and premature leaf drop. Leaves can also grow smaller, which can substantially reduce photosynthesis, which provides energy for the plant. Less surface area means less photosynthesis. Younger plants with less established and shallower root systems are more vulnerable to negative impacts, too. Some impacts may not be seen right away. Branches can die back the following year, and some plants may not even survive in the year or in the years following a severe drought. This can be really tough to diagnose, but certain disease may be more likely to occur in subsequent years following severe droughts such as root rot, cankers and wilt diseases. Likewise, wood boring insects may be more prevalent for trees stressed by drought. To whatever extent possible some people will provide targeted supplemental irrigation during drought. In these circumstances, there often isn't water to waste so getting the most out of your water is a must. Established plants shouldn't need daily watering and you're going to be much better served watering for longer and less often, rather than shorter duration watering more often. If you spray some water for a few seconds around a tree, or even on your lawn for that matter every day, how much of that water do you really think is making its way deep into the soil to the very bottom of the root zone? Water on the surface or just below the surface will dry out and evaporate quicker and won't help the plant nearly as much as deeper watering. For trees and shrubs you might find a deep watering every two weeks even works wonders. Ensuring they are mulched out to the drip line (which is the edge of where the canopy goes out to) will help conserve water significantly. Make sure mulch is kept a few inches from the trunks and stems however, so that means not piled up against the plant. Oftentimes gardeners will have too much mulch right around the main stems and not enough mulch out where the new roots are developing and growing. So don't do that. For plants with shallower root systems, like a lawn or annual flowers, watering every two or three days might be a more appropriate frequency. The right perennials planted in the right places (keep that in mind - right plant, right place) will often be able to go a week or even two without any water once they're established and have mulch properly anyway. If you can, try to do your watering in the early morning. For some gardeners the amount of work it takes to keep some plants alive during drought can lead them to consider other more drought-tolerant options. Why walk uphill if you don't have to, right? Some gardeners may look to incorporate perennials and grasses associated with a wildflower meadow or drought-tolerant ground covers into areas that have more annual flowers and turf grass in them right now. Once these kinds of plants are established, they typically require very little or even no supplemental irrigation. So that's really a win during drought conditions. For those interested in planting and incorporating wildflowers into your yard and garden, you might be interested to learn about a pollinator garden certification program we brought to New Hampshire in partnership with our friends at UMaine Cooperative Extension. That happened in between now and the last podcast we released. There will probably be a future episode that dives into this but whether you want to pursue pollinator-friendly certification or not, the process and resources offered through this program will help you towards your goals, including a more drought-tolerant landscape. Learn more through the link in this episode's show notes. I guess that's where I'll wrap up this episode. Hopefully, hopefully, the show will be back as a regular part of your podcast feed soon.

Nate Bernitz 7:44

We just need to make sure we meet the right people who can help carry the torch of this podcast and all that we do and want to do in the months and years ahead. So enjoy the bounty and beauty of the season and reach out to us anytime with your yard and garden questions. Be well Granite State gardeners. 
Granite State Gardening is a production of University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, an equal opportunity educator and employer. The views expressed on this podcast are not necessarily those of the university's, its trustees, or its volunteers. Inclusion or exclusion of commercial products in this podcast does not imply endorsement. The University of New Hampshire, US Department of Agriculture and New Hampshire counties cooperate to provide Extension programming in the Granite State. Learn more at

Transcribed by Transcript edited by Rebecca Dube.


Extension Field Specialist, Community & Economic Development
Phone: (603) 678-4576
Office: Cooperative Extension, Nesmith Hall Room 204, Durham, NH 03824