April showers bring May flowers, or so the saying goes.
Edmonton is a northern prairie city where this adage doesn’t reliably apply. In fact, historically April is a dry month with an average of 26mm of precipitation, about half in rain and half in snow. In May we see the precipitation nearly double to an average of 49mm.
Environment Canada predicts less than normal precipitation for Edmonton this spring, which in itself wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that we just survived the third lowest snowfall in recorded history.
And we’ve been experiencing drought or near-drought conditions over the past ten years. Predictions are unfavourable for this growing season, and with forest fire season beginning, Alberta firefighters are on high alert for a busy year.
What does this mean for our gardens here in Edmonton? It means it is time to give serious thought to what we grow, how we grow it, and how we use and recycle our water.
As far as what to grow, indigenous plants make for the perfect xeriscaped yard. Look for open-pollinated native plants such as Gaillardia aristata (blanket flower) or Linum lewisii (blue flax) to add beautiful color to your perennial garden while attracting bees and other helpful insects to the yard.
Mulching is the key to water retention, not to mention a bane to weeds. Mulch should ideally be composed of organic residues such as grass clippings, leaves, shredded bark or even newspaper. Mulch not only aids in retaining moisture, it warms the soil in the spring and encourages growth. As the season progresses, mulch prevents weed seeds from germinating by blocking sunlight.
Watering should always be done in the early morning hours, a task easily accomplished with the aid of an inexpensive watering timer. Watering in the morning allows for more efficient water absorption, whereas watering in the evening allows moisture-loving pests to take advantage of your plants overnight.
Drip irrigation is the way to go if you can afford the initial expense (it will pay for itself over the long haul). Sprinklers are inefficient at delivering moisture, especially if there is any amount of wind or heat. If we do eventually get a decent rain, I plan to collect as much runoff as possible in my rain barrels for future use.
For those who want to reduce their water use dramatically, step one would be to take up the lawn. Typical turf grasses such as Kentucky Bluegrass require regular watering and fertilization, both of which have a large impact on the environment. If you’re not ready to take up the lawn (I’m not there yet, I must admit), low-maintenance alternatives such as white clover or drought tolerant fescues may be the answer.
This year will prove to be a challenge in Northern Alberta, but we’re learning more about water conservation and in time we’ll reap the benefits.