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Gardeners may need to adjust to drier conditions

As I wrote a story for last Sunday’s paper about the drought and the possibility of water restrictions in Wichita, it seemed that a different attitude was being brought to the use of water.

Even if it does suddenly start raining – even if it starts raining a lot – maybe we realize that we shouldn’t waste water even if we’re able to do so.

“Don’t try to make it green, make it more drought-tolerant,” Josh Cranmer of Cranmer Grass Farm told me last week when we were talking about the drought and possible water restrictions – and fescue. He was referring to that point in early spring when we set the tone for the rest of the summer. That is not the time when we should start spoiling our grass with lots of water. It’s the time to be sparing with water so that the grass grows long roots to look for water underground rather than expect it from above.

I love the idea of growing drought-tolerant fescue. Fescue that isn’t fertilized as much. Fescue that isn’t watered as much. Fescue that isn’t mowed as much. And, when it is mowed, it is mulch-mowed, so the clippings fall right onto the turf, adding natural fertilizer to the grass and removing the work of otherwise disposing of the clippings.

If we can keep our grass alive for better days – better days in terms of natural rainfall that greens up the grass – I will be thrilled, all the while keeping in mind that we also need to be, as Rita Arnold of Arnold’s Greenhouse said, planting things that attract the pollinators that are necessary for flowers, vegetables and fruits.

If you’d like to learn more about gardening to save water, you may want to catch the Spring Gardening Workshop that the Sedgwick County Extension Master Gardeners are putting Feb. 9. It will feature several concurrent seminars, several of them with a drought emphasis, including water-wise landscaping, perennials. ornamental grasses, native plants and drip irrigation. It will be at the Extension Education Center at 21st and Ridge Road; the cost is $10. See the Gardener’s Almanac on Page 2C for the schedule and registration details.

Dick Elder, retired head of the National Weather Service in Wichita, became a master gardener last year, and he will give one of the talks: Climate and Gardening, at 9 a.m. He said this week that he is not optimistic about Wichita’s weather improving much this year, though summer and fall may not be as bad.

“The main thing I see from farmers and gardeners – I kind of put them in the same frame – is the ones that are successful it seems to me are the ones that can adjust from good years to bad years.” He pointed to the way farmers reacted in the Dust Bowl; following the great growing conditions of the 1920s, they reacted to the dry weather of the 1930s by “trying to do the same thing and more of it, thinking the next year will be great. It’s almost a similarity now. … We continue to water the daylights out of everything thinking everything is going to be dandy.”

Whether the pattern continues, Elder said, he doesn’t know, but “maybe we do need to adjust,” planting things that are more amenable to hot, dry weather.