Drought worries

kathy9norcalJanuary 18, 2014

I have been growing roses in California for over 17 years, and we have never had a drought like we are in right now. We should have had about 8 inches of rain so far and we haven't had even 2. It is warm and spring-like with NO rain in sight.
We are already being told on our water bill that we use more than average. What am I going to do if I can't water this summer? Will I lose all my beautiful roses (and daylilies)? If I do, it is over for me. I just won't do it again. It will be too painful to bear.

Has anyone else experienced a drought which severely limited your watering ability? Is anyone else worrying like I am right now?

I know we still could get rain--it sometimes comes in March. But what is with this warm weather in January? We should be getting frosts here but instead, I have had to dig out the t-shirts to garden in.

One more question, if you are still reading. Is it better to prune severely or a bit higher if you are expecting not to have enough water? Really need to know this.

Thanks for reading this post!

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kentucky_rose zone 6

You may be able to recycle your bath water, dish water, etc. Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 3:31PM
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I'm worried, too, Kathy, but if your roses are established, you can probably scale back a bit on the watering this year, and see what happens next. I keep telling myself that I will be better with the water distribution--my succulent gardens will get little water in favor of keeping the roses as well possible, instead of me being ditzy about just watering the whole system and forgetting about it. Don't worry about boats that haven't arrived yet, but just think about some strategies to do more with less if you can.

This strikes me as a good year to prune lightly.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 3:32PM
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My water bill was semi shocking this summer. It is usually low. I don't have a lawn and an automatic sprinkler system.
I guess that will work out well since they are asking for a 20% cut. I won't skimp, but will be more prudent. I have a about 20 bushes and they will be taken care of.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 4:36PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Don't prune at all - not anything. It just gets the rose growing more whereas if you leave it completely alone, it will go back into dormancy, drop its leaves but protect itself at the rootzone. All shrubs will do this as a last resort but, since growth always follows the knife (a phrase I use tediously often, I know) this is the time to slack off on anything which demands more resources than a plant can offer.
A secondary aspect, which I had not previously considered, is the capacity of larger canopies to shade the ground and prevent further evaporation.
Do not despair yet - as long as roses are in the ground, their roots go deep (as the many survivors in cemetaries and homesteads can verify) - all woody shrubs can protect themselves to a higher degree than we may consider.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 4:43PM
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Also live in Nor Cal. I agree with camp - do not prune at all, period. My roses' leaves have all died, and many dropped all of them, for the first time since we have lived here (25 years). So, they are dormant, and the best thing for them is to stay that way. Also, I grew up in this area, and it has NEVER been as dry as this, never.

In our area they are talking about instituting water rationing so that you need to cut back by 10-20%. That would not be a problem for us, as we can just stop watering the two lawns and that would more than take care of that. However, if it really does not rain the restrictions will probably get tighter. In the mid 1970s they banned all outside water, with hoses or watering systems, period. You were allowed to use bath/sink/laundry water but only if you carried it in buckets! We have a ground level basement, and my DH set up a huge water barrel underneath where our bath/shower was, and collected all of that water for use in the garden.

So, there are lots of ways to keep your roses alive next Summer, even if the drought persists. Roses are pretty tough customers, and they don't need that much water to survive, although they won't grow or bloom much.


    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 5:25PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Um another thought. I know this is not really comparable but I live in the driest part of the UK....and garden on sand. Worse than having no water is having some but not enough. Unless you can do a deep watering, at least2 gallons for every square yard, every time, best to do nothing because the roots will either go deep for water.....or rise to the surface if this is where the ground is wetter - the water MUST penetrate down to the roots....and this takes bloody ages, trickling it in and is, for me, the major barrier.....although there are tree-watering bags - a sort of resevoir of water which trickles through a perforated base, but you would need one for every rose. So, with roses, tomatoes, perennials, I try to hold my nerve, trust the plant to survive by searching deeper under the soil. It is a tricky balance - it is not uncommon for us to have hose-pipe bans enforced and I can just about manage to water the potatoes, lugging cans up and down the plot....one of the hardest lessons I learned as a gardener was that so-called prairie plants needed a much wetter soil than I could ever provide and a whole area of hard sown plants just gave up the ghost

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 6:07PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

There is a similar thread on the Antique Rose forum

Also if you are interested, a link to my cities web page on gray water

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 6:35PM
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Thanks all of you for the quick replies. Well, I have pruned all but about 5 roses so far. I will leave the rest, something I have never done before. Yes, I will sacrifice the little remaining lawn if need be. Also take quicker showers. I can't imagine how to use shower water or sink water, though. Pipes are interior or below ground, I think. Kippy, thanks for the referral to the other forum!

I did talk to someone nearby who said he didn't water his roses one summer and they survived. I can't even imagine this. I do like the recommendation about watering deeply or not at all. You would think just the opposite but it does make sense.

I think I will leave my tools and a good pair of shoes in the yard. Maybe the perverse water goddess will rain on them!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 6:54PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Kathy, wash your car, it works for me all the time.

One usually easy place to find to hook up gray water is the washing machine, just remember to use eco friendly soaps

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 7:46PM
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roseblush1(8a/Sunset 7)


This may be hard, but focus on saving the roses you love/like the most.

I have some roses that I loved when I first planted them, but over the years, I've planted other roses that I find are far more satisfying. If I lost some of my "OK" roses, in order to save the ones that are still important to me, I would not consider it a huge loss.

I have a hunch the "California water wars" are really going to heat up this year. Our lake is already looking more like a mud puddle than a lake and I doubt if there will be much snow melt to replenish it.

This not going to be a good year for a lot of reasons.


    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 9:13PM
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iris_gal(z9 CA)

I am using dripping hoses. Actually drip........drip.........drip.........
I leave the slow drip hose on a rose overnight. Or 2 nights if the drip is really slow. Move it to the next for a night and so on. Then start all over. The water bill is staying lower using this method.
I keep a bowl in the bathroom basin to wash my hands.
A trash can is filled for hand watering potted plants.
The daylilies demand the most water! Shock to me.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 9:25PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance

What is the first thing people do when facing foreclosure? They stop watering their gardens! How long does it take for a bank to foreclose? At least a year. How long does it take for the bank to resell the house and for the new owners to remodel and flip? Another year.

We faced this when we purchased our current home. In the tangled mess of overgrown hedges and vines, we discovered roses! Alive!

We cut them back, gave them water and fertilizer, and they bloomed beautifully last year. We even discovered a lemon tree hidden under weedy vines. The roses aren't my favorite ones, and we are planting others.

We do live in an agricultural section and are supplied by the ag water company, so we might be OK, but everything is on drip here, and I think cutting the drip time in half will be OK for the length of time this drought lasts.

I hope no more than a year, but some droughts last a lot longer. Sad, but we are all in the same boat. Misery loves company.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 10:26AM
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Yeah, I've been worried too. I can't believe the Gov took so long to officially declare a drought. I live up in the lower Sierras, and our reservoirs supply much of the lower areas of CA. I heard they are cutting back about 20% of what they normally send down south. If I have to cut back on watering it won't hurt me too much, because I over watered last yr, so 20% won't hurt the roses that much. And I too will focus more on the "hard-to-find" and the "I-can't-lose-them" varieties, as well as the potted ones that dry out the fastest. Thankfully I haven't gotten around to a whole lot of pruning yet. I lose roses every yr from various causes, but I certainly am not going to lose them due to lack of water! I refuse to let that happen. I have invested thousands of dollars over the yrs, and I cannot afford to let them die. If I have to I will pay penalties. I will also start collecting gray water when the time comes.

I can tell you, we have had some bad droughts in the past up here. When I graduated from High school back in the mid-seventies and my dad moved us up here from SoCal, I remember having to save wash water to flush the toilets with. "If it's yellow it's mellow... if it's brown flush it down!!" My dad was always a conservationist and a tightwad! Even yrs later after I got married and moved away for awhile, he still in his seventies and even into his eighties would collect the wash water in wheeled garbage cans that he would drag outside and dump over the lawn or in the flowerbeds. So I know how to conserve, believe me! And hey! Let's not count our chickens just yet. Things could change at any moment as we all know.

Unfortunately, as I keep reiterating... the Earth's axis has shifted twice with the last two major tsunamis. That is obviously a factor in our climate rearrangements worldwide. Look at all the unusual freezing cold in places that never had it so bad before. And the tornadoes in places that never had them before. I am no scientist, but I think the climate is going to take a few yrs to readjust. Or it may not. This just may be the new norm for all of us. I certainly hope not. Personally tho, I'm loving the "no rain" thing. I hated it when we had the torrential downpours for months on end back in the 90s. I hate driving in rain. But I also know we do need the rain. And for us here in CA we need it soon. But even more so, we need the snowpack in the high Sierras, or things will be even worse this summer. It's the snow that gives us the runoff that fills the reservoirs, and if we don't get more, we'll be in really bad shape. But let's all have a positive attitude and hope that cooler temps will come back at some point and bring some precip with it!

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 1:50PM
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Back in the 70's when we had the drought in CA. I used a 5 gal bucket in both showers all the time. Everyone always runs the water till it gets hot and in 2 or so days the thing was full but heavy. Some times it had a little soap in it but the plants didn't mind. Put the bucket as close to the drain as possible so its not in the way when you shower.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 4:59PM
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I've mentioned this before, but some time back, NatGeo magazine had an article about the American west being settled during a 100-year wet cycle, and is now cycling back to its normal rainfall. I know this is discouraging and scary, and I hope it's not true, but I thought I would mention it in case anyone was interested in researching it.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 5:45PM
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I've been a homeowner in the same area for 33 years.
I've spent a lot of money over the years putting in drainage. The El Ninos almost did me in a few times.
Most of the rain has been in the spring. If it doesn't happen then I'll start to be concerned. I don't think there was water serious rationing more than a few times.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 6:07PM
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ingrid_vc(Z10 SoCal)

This may sound like heresy, but in a non-humid climate is it really necessary to take a bath or shower every day? I'm starting to cut back and nothing horrible has happened. I also keep a large bowel in the sink for washing hands, fruits and vegetables and then carry it out to the roses. Obviously the idea of having a lawn in this scenario is absurd. Roses that don't perform well might well be sacrificed and not replaced with new ones. The bucket in the shower is another good idea, as is gray water.

The way the earth's axis is shifting right now may give us a bit of a cooling trend, but the fact remains that 95% of the world's scientists agree that human-caused global warming is what's causing the changes. If something isn't done on a global government level there will be no happy ending. In the meantime all we can do is use the resources we have at hand to the utmost.


    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 6:17PM
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The suns activity will be less in the next few years than it has been lately, so I hope that will provide a little relief. My neighbor had at least 5 badly sunburned roses last year. I even had it here and there. I'm thinking about building an outdoor sink and counter with a catch bucket under it for rinsing out things. Washing does not take much water, but rinsing does. Carrying out the buckets is hard work. Makes me think of the poor servants of old carrying water up and down all day long. No wonder the clothes were washed in the river!

My guy is so sweet, he says if the prices shoot up, I can use his shower to save my water for the plants. I am still thinking about an outdoor shower I saw on a small solar house that was beautiful.

Beth, your rose garden is like Noah's Ark, I would fight for them as well if I had that collection. I'm hoping it won't come to it, but it's good that we all are thinking about ways to save water. It's going to be hard to watch the fern collection I've built up over the years from clubs and fern society sales die if we don't get any rain but I think I may give them away before things get bad if rain doesn't arrive and cover the ground with bark.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 11:33AM
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I am doing my part - I just asked our window cleaning guy to come and clean all of our windows on Feb 3 - which is unheard of. I figure either I will get windows that stay clean until next Fall, or it will rain on them, which would be better!


    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 1:01PM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

What is a droughtâ¦we average 4.5" of rainfall or less annuallyâ¦. this isn't a typo. In 1916, there was 4.67" of rain, setting a record that has yet to be broken. During the summer it hits 120+ degrees in parts of this valley and for a month, the temperature NEVER dips below triple digits. I have never lost a rose to heat, but all plants and trees are watered.

Many of the gardens in the very hot and dry Southwest are xeriscape, not the lushness you find in so many places. They are filled with drought tolerant plants.

Any home built here after 2003 or somewhere near there has no front lawn, by ordinance; If people like the look of lawn, they purchase the best synthetic lawn they can find, I did for my doggie. Roses, once established thrive, lavender, salvia, texas ranger plus so many other plants love the heat and fill the landscape here. Some of these are drought tolerant and you have to take care not to overwater them.

You adjust, and find ways to create beauty within the confines of your soil, climate, budget and water-use conscience; you also may be required to select other plants to better handle the rigamarole the government or climate might put you through.

In December, we took an impromptu trip to Colorado to visit the Navajo and Ute Cliff Dwellings, and then passed back through Utah and Monument Valley. Look to the past and the adversity that man was able to overcome, including the migration to the Americas which occurred sooner than scientists originally thought. How the Ute survived and built their civilizations, were impacted by drought and moved on, whereas others found ways to adjust and survive.

I live in a perpetual drought, and for all intents and purposes, if we get half the rain, we go on, and still water because next to nothing survives without doing so, or don't and things die. I guess in a long-winded way I am trying to promote optimism; you will survive, and worst case scenario , you might end up creating beautiful gardens that might have a more Phoenix, Palms Springs or Las Vegas kind of Southwestern flair ( and this is the worst case scenario⦠water wise).

I do feel our gardens have their own type of beauty :).


This post was edited by desertgarden561 on Mon, Jan 20, 14 at 15:11

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 1:51PM
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To add on to Camp's post about tree watering bags for watering and the problem of needing one for each plant...

We use 5 gallon buckets with a nail hole or two in the bottom. A plastic bucket can be had for as little as a couple dollars--unlike the tree bags which are $20-$30 dollars a piece! This would be a great way to use your gray water in an extremely efficient and inexpensive drip manner.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 2:20PM
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roseblush1(8a/Sunset 7)

Lynn ....

You asked, "What is a drought ?"

Since I live in a county-of-origin for a lot of water that is sent down to the more southern parts of California, maybe I can give you some perspective as to why we are concerned.

In a "dry year", we may get 25" of rain during the winter/spring months. In a "normal year", we get 30 to 40" of rain. In a "wet" year, we get 45 to 50" inches of rain. We get no rain during the summer months and the beginning of the fall.

Much of the water in our reservoirs is sent south to provide water for the large agricultural activities in central California, but also for over-developed areas that have no local source of water. The reservoirs are replenished by the snow melt from the higher elevations.

This year we got 1" of rain in November. None in December and 1/4th inch so far in January. The reservoir is 50% full. The snow pack is 20% of normal for this time of year.

The demand for water for the agricultural industry will be higher and we don't have the water to send south, so everyone living or working down south will have major water restrictions. Also, our own economy will not have enough water for our own agricultural activities and to maintain river levels for the salmon industry. A major source of income up here is water recreation. Those activities will also be impacted which will trickle down to impact small businesses.

It is illegal for us to use gray water because the theory is that everything peculates down and lands in the river, so, yes, shortage of water will impact our gardens.

I think we all plant gardens that will do well in our normal climates. In my climate, it's normal to have more than enough water for the gardens even in the dry years.

My electric bill has already been increased by a 17% surcharge because we have had two "dry years" in a row and won't go down until we get two "normal years" in a row.

There is no doubt I am going to have to make some changes in how I garden this year to get my plants through the drought.
I plan to mulch heavier with different materials. I won't add new plants and won't transplant the roses I had planned to move. I only have 450 square feet of lawn and I don't care if it dies.

I am even going to have to plant less thirsty vegetables instead of my normal crops in order to voluntarily meet the water 20% lower water usage goal.

I doubt if our small water district will impose water restrictions, but I want to do my part.


    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 3:22PM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

Lyn, I intentionally did not include a question mark because it was a rhetorical comment followed by I live in an area of perpetual drought ( Las Vegas⦠part of the driest major county in the nation). We get our water from Lake Mead which is located on the Colorado River. The lake has been in a state of drought many times for the past 60 years and it is predicted that by 2021, live storages will be depleted. Our water use has been restricted for over a decade. Xeriscape is a way of life for many of us here. The point is, some parts of the Southwest are already in a drought to a different extreme, but I think we will find a way to survive this; I am hopeful.


This post was edited by desertgarden561 on Mon, Jan 20, 14 at 17:35

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 5:27PM
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I'm also in Northern California and it is scary. We rent, and it's part of our rental agreement that we need to tend to the lawns and gardens. So, we'll continue watering, but try to do it as smart as we can:

-Water late at night so the water can penetrate and not evaporate
-Take Navy showers and wash only full laundry loads to conserve water
-Collect the warming-up water from the showers and sinks and use that in the garden
-Finish my keyhole garden so that the grey water I collect can be efficiently-utilized by the vegetable plants
-Dig channels around the rosebushes so that the water doesn't run off away from the roots

Some ideas. But roses are hardy buggers!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 6:27PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

I've decided it's a great time to do some culling--there are certainly some roses I can do without, and one whole section that has such sharp drainage it's hard to keep watered is switching from Roses/Daylillies to Aloes/dry climate Salvias, moving the best of the roses there to places that hold the moisture better, tossing the rest. It feels--refreshing. When rainy years return--there will be room for new roses.

I'm pruning my roses harder this year. It seems like a 2' rose would need less water than an 8' rose.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 4:59PM
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Today in the LA Times,Jeffrey Knightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District has written some thoughts in the OP-ED section. Things will be tight but maybe not as bad as some of us have been fearing. If everyone can conserve just a little more maybe there will be no huge restrictions. Groundwater conservation and recycling are helping. One of the best things is that Ca residents have been installing water saving appliances and low flow shower heads and this is really helping the state. He writes " Southlanders should also know that the situation here is not yet dire, and it doesn't need to be if we are careful". I hope he is right and I still want that pineapple express to visit CA and give us the water we need so badly.

I was happy that the little things are adding up and hope that everyone will be careful and still saves where they can. I'm going to be better about keeping that mulch layer thick this year instead of letting it thin out among other things. I still want that outdoor shower though. :)

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 11:23AM
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I live in a summer drought area and am decidedly frugal in my habits. I've had water conservation on my mind for about a quarter of a century now.
I don't water my garden during drought, except for plants that have been in the ground less than a year and, of course, those in pots. It must be said that we have heavy soil and usually get a fair amount of winter rain. The garden lives, no rose deaths. I don't know if casualties would be higher if a summer drought followed on a very dry winter. No doubt my chance to find out will arrive sooner or later, but for now I can't say.
I usually take rather scanty showers anyway, but in really dry summers I've set up a shower head out in the garden and showered there. You can do it wearing a bathing suit if the neighbors can see. Big secret: you can also pee in the garden--always if no one can see--and save yourself a lot of flush water, as well as adding nitrogen to the soil. Poop has to go in the toilet, however, for sanitary reasons.
I also carry out water for rinsing vegetables and use it on the potted plants. Water-efficient washing machines, shower heads and toilets, turning off the water while brushing your teeth, and so on, go without saying. I find I need to shower more in summer than in winter: I sweat more, and have more bare skin that can get dirty. There is the useful sponge bath if a daily shower isn't enough. There's also the cooling power of washing, important for us as we don't have air conditioning and don't have any swimming to speak of either--only the tepid town swimming pool.
Mulch helps, so does shading, from bigger plants, buildings, perhaps structures erected for the purpose of providing shade to particularly valuable or vulnerable plants. I greatly value my wisteria pergola in summer, when it shades most of my potted plants, as well as the ground floor of our house, and me.
My garden is predicated on the idea of no water in summer, so I've always tried to get plants that are adapted to my climate. No one can change their plantings in a heartbeat, and plants that do need summer water are going to suffer, no doubt about it. But if the drought is as bad as you Californians are dreading, and let's hope it won't be, you'll get some surprises, and some of them may be happy ones.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2014 at 3:29AM
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Campanula UK Z8

We have regular 'hosepipe bans' in East Anglia - on sandy soil this is a pain. However, the only things I water at the allotment are potatoes and one deep watering for the tomatoes - perennials and roses are always on their own. Of course, my allotment does not look as lush as some of the pics I see on GW.....but once you go down that route of watering, you have to keep it up (a bit like ironing - another no-no as we all get addicted to smooth clothes).....so I just grow everything hard. It certainly winnows out the wimps and needy types - almost a whole 'prairie' garden gone, along with a number of precious species glads, schizostylus, primulas.....even stalwarts such as scabious....but on the other hand, the shrubby salvia collection is a source of as much delight as the roses (and they bloom longer, continuously and effortlessly) while most bulbs are absolutely stellar, loving the summer baking and winter chill.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2014 at 6:50AM
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