Watering the garden, not the plants

Isn’t this a great time of year, when everything is so lush and green? The gardens are thriving. Garden tours have returned. The peonies popped open, and then the roses.  Nevertheless, the real story is rain.

The internet tells me Kansas City’s average rainfall amount for May is 5.39”. Some of us had more than that on one day. The National Weather Service says we’ve had nine consecutive days of rain, with more coming.

Curious isn’t it that 1993, the year it rained pretty much perpetually, isn’t on this list? The rain may feel extreme while we’re going through it, but I think pretty much the same thing happens every year. Remember how Westport flooded last year, on May 28, 2020?

All this moisture has been great for plants. The short little plugs I bought last year have sprung up, thick and lush, so tall they screen whatever is growing behind them from sight.  I’m afraid the placement of most of them is all wrong. Short ones should be in front, tall in back, but they were all short when I planted them.

Even plants I divided last year are burgeoning. This hosta threatens to spill into the driveway. 

Why is rain so much better for the garden than watering?

I always assumed that it’s because rainfall uniformly soaks the ground, and misty days like the ones we’ve had water gently and over a significant period of time. Still, the plants look like they’ve been fertilized, and it turns out they have been.  Not only does rain water lack chlorine, which can harm plants, it can contain nitrogen in forms plants can absorb. Rain water also leaches away salts.

In this interview from last summer with Margaret Roach, The New York Botanical Garden’s Daryl Beyers talks about “watering the garden, not the plants.” By that he means watering the soil, which is where plants get all the water they use. He goes into detail about all the different ways plants use water and more.

Should you set a timer or stick to manual? Use drip irrigation or spray? I’ve heard all of these recommended, but when it comes to watering, no one approach works for everything.

Peony Power

All this moisture has been great for the peonies, one of the flowers that wowed me when I first moved here. We don’t have them in Texas. They’re natives of central Asia, but clearly they do well here as the many spectacular examples blooming now show.  

Our next-door neighbors had a hedge of peonies growing along the back of their property, like a big pink ruffle when they bloomed. They must have been thirty years old.  When those neighbors moved, the new ones tore them out and installed new landscaping, which seemed tragic to me. I love peonies. I and one of the workmen rescued several plants from the trash, brought them home and planted them.  This was probably six years ago. I always hear that perennials resent being moved, and that must have been the case because the plants were spindly and flowerless, and vulnerable to fungus.  Sleep, creep, then leap they say? These slept for six years. Still, they persisted, and this year, boom. The rain powered up the flowers.

I like that scarlet thread.

To thrive, peonies need a cold winter dormant season and abundant moisture during the early part of the growing season, which they apparently got this year. The best time to plant them is in fall, according to the Farmer’s Almanac.

Can you name this plant?

Finally, do you know what this is?

PlantNet says it’s Amorpha fruticosa L., False indigo bush. I is wrong. This is Leadplant, Amorpha canescens. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says it can grow one-to-three feet tall, but this one is closer to five. The flowers are the most striking color combination: deep purple and orange. It’s growing in my across-the-street neighbor’s front yard, surrounded by golden groundsel.

I’m posting this too late to share to the Kansas City Gardening Facebook Group, which is where I get most of my readers. The group is going on a ten-day hiatus. I love seeing the pictures of flowers and will miss reading the members’ questions and comments. I don’t know what problem they’re having with Facebook’s algorithm, but I want to say thank you to the admins for maintaining the forum. The group has been a real treat.

Best wishes for a safe, happy Memorial Day. Thanks for reading!