The current drought situation has been aided by an overall persistence of unusually warm, dry weather. June of 2012 officially ranked as the 6th warmest on record in Chicago, while it was also the 5th driest.
WGN Meteorologist Paul Merzlock
We are, indeed, in a drought. Trees are stressed; lawns are brown. Prairies and prairie gardens, however, are unfazed. Prairie plants have survived droughts for eons.
My son-law’s parents, once again, graciously invited me to their house for their annual 4th of July celebration.
In 2004, I re-did their entrance garden, a low berm nestled inside of a half-circular driveway. It blooms from May through October and It does not require supplementary water.
We first added some limestone outcropping.
Then we transplanted Purple Coneflower from other sites within their property.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is the most popular perennial in the United States today. It is native to the Midwest, but not at all common in the wild. Swink & Wilhelm state that it appears to be prosperous in Bur Oak savannas in southern Cook County; Dick Young says it is uncommon in railroad prairies south and west of Elgin, where I live. The bold, rose-purple daisy with a large copper-brown center cone grows singly at the top of a 3-4’ stiff, hairy stem, in bloom in July and August in prairie and savanna. It spreads by rhizomes and seeds.
Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), Prairie Baby’s Breath (Euphorbia corollata), and Stiff Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata) were added. (See descriptions 2 weeks ago.)
Today, the yellow daisies of Rosin Weed (Silphium integrifolium) replace those of last week’s Stiff Coreopsis. Clusters of large, 3” diameter, canary-yellow daisies bloom at the top of the stems in July and August. The rough sandpaper, stalkless leaves are arranged in pairs along the length of the stiff stem. It grows 2-5’ tall in the prairie; in my garden it is over my head.
Prairie Petunia (Ruellia humilis) sprawls over the outcropping.
Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) is part of the picture, as is
Little Bluestem (Andropogon scoparius).
Look on page 102 of my book, Design Your Natural Midwest Garden, for a design similar to what I did here.
So, don’t despair about the drought. I have listed 8 native prairie plants that once established–2-3 years–thrive here without any supplementary water. In addition to the above, Compass Plant, Culver’s Root, Rattlesnake Master, Mountain Mint, and Wine Cups are blooming in my prairie gardens.
As for watering, skip the lawn, but water your trees, especially those planted in the last 3 years. I drove to the vegetable stand this afternoon and the parkway trees planted last year in our town in a huge tree-planting program are extremely stressed–many of the leaves are crisp and brown, perhaps beyond help. Turn on the hose to slowly water your tree for 2-3 hours, neighbors–hopefully, they will recover.
Prairie perennials and grasses planted in the last 2 or 3 years also need to be watered. If you have a rain garden, it probably needs to be watered, too. While plants suitable for rain gardens require moisture in the spring and are able to withstand dryness in the summer and fall, our drought has been going on for some time and there might not be enough moisture in the soil to carry the plants through the summer.
Also, be sure to keep your bird baths filled with water.