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Geraniums, shown here at Rohrer’s Green Garden, are among the savvy choices for planting during a drought season. Purslane, a plant related to the moss rose, is another resilient option for what looks to be a dry summer. Beth Rickers/Daily Globe

Blooms or bust

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WORTHINGTON — Local garden centers are bursting with brightly-hued flowers and plants to entice both the avid and casual gardener. But the ban on watering currently being enforced in Worthington requires people to be strategic in both what they plant and how they take care of those plants.

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This is the second year that Marcy LaVelle, a member of the Worthington Garden Club, has used a rain barrel to gather water for gardening needs. Such barrels can be tapped into gutter systems or placed underneath downspouts to collect rainwater.

“Last year was the first time, with the watering restrictions, that I really thought about it,” she said. “Mulching and the rain barrel are my first line of defense…. I had one rain barrel last year, and at the end of the season I picked up two more, and now I’m thinking about going and getting another one.”

Rain barrels are a hot commodity at both Schwalbach Ace Hardware and Runnings in Worthington.

“The square ones are the more popular,” said Linda Johnson, assistant manager at Runnings, noting that she needed to order more. “They can be put under the downspouts and have screens that keep the debris out.”

“Rain barrels have been selling real well,” agreed Gaylen Hubbard, Ace store manager. “We have a couple of different kinds and sizes — 45, 50 and 65-gallon. We also have kits if you have your own container and want to make a rain barrel out of it.”

Hubbard also explained that the barrels can be interconnected to provide more water storage and deal with overflow.

While some people question whether there will be adequate rain to fill a barrel, advocates say it doesn’t take much precipitation to gather an adequate supply. According to one online source, 1 inch of rain on a 1,000-square-foot roof will generate about 600 gallons of runoff.

“It’s amazing what little bit of rain it takes to fill it up,” said LaVelle.

With a landscape filled with perennial plants and a daughter’s wedding reception coming up in the backyard, Jan and Larry Petersen of Worthington use a rain barrel but have also gotten inventive in their water recycling habits. Inside their shower, the Petersens place a pail that collects the water before it gets hot enough to climb in, as well as any other excess that falls into it in the bathing process. Jan, a member of the local garden club and currently co-president of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society’s Fourth District, also uses a bucket when washing dishes, not letting the water go down the drain.

Such greywater contains soap, and if softened, salt, that may not be the best for the plants, but the Petersens take care not to pour it directly on the plants’ roots and believe the soil filters out most of the bad stuff.

Earlier this week, the Petersens tried a new tactic: Recycling water from the washing machine. They stopped the appliance after the rinse cycle to capture the water before it went down the drain.

“I dipped about 11 liters out of the rinse water before it spun out,” reported Jan.

Other sources for recycling water are sump pumps and dehumidifiers.

Mulching is another strategy that ensures water gets used by plants instead of being lost to evaporation.

“We collect every bit of grass clippings and put them around the plants,” explained Jan. “They’re mulched so deep that every bit of water gets saved.”

Perennials are the best water conservers, Jan noted, because their roots go deep into the soil to seek out the moisture. But most gardeners like to add annuals to their landscape, too, to provide a burst of color.

With drought conditions likely to persist in the coming months, Rohrer’s Green Garden Center on Oxford Street has labeled plants that will more easily survive hot and dry weather.

“The toughest one is probably purslane,” said owner Clint Rohrer. “It’s related to the moss rose, so it has that style of look. The flowers open in the day and close at night. It’s extremely tough. Last year, I found a pot of it two months after we’d closed. It was all shriveled, but within two weeks it was blooming again.”

Succulents, with their thick green leaves and interesting forms, are another good choice.

“Lantana takes the heat, and once established, is very drought-tolerant,” continued Rohrer. “And, of course, geraniums. If it’s really hot, they’ll just sit there and wait until they get watered. The Dragon Wing begonia is another one. It blooms all summer in sun or shade, and if you don’t water, it waits. Begonias, on the whole, like to be on the dry side, although some are a bit fussier. Gazania and periwinkle will also do well once they’re established.”

At Sterling Drug’s garden center in downtown Worthington, Linda Kuhle suggests geraniums as well as marigolds to people looking for plants that don’t need frequent watering. But she also points to garden accessories as a way to add color to the landscape without sacrificing water.

“There are garden stakes, bird baths, statues, colorful pots,” she said. “I think a lot of people are doing fewer pots but trying to get more pow out of them.”

Here are a few other tips for drought conditions:

  • Pull weeds that compete with plants for moisture.
  • Do not overuse fertilizers that increase growth and water demands.
  • Infrequent deep watering encourages deeper root growth and results in plants with greater drought tolerance.
  • Mow lawns higher during hot weather to reduce growth rate; protect grass from sunburn; promote deeper root growth; and reduce weeds.

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.

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Beth Rickers
Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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