What Survived The Drought of 2013

Brown leaf on tulip tree. This tree has started to change colors early, but I think it's too big and too vigorous to be at risk due to the drought.

Brown leaf on tulip tree. This tree has started to change colors early, but I think it’s too big and too vigorous to be at risk due to the drought.

Well, most things did. We had more than an inch of rain in the past week, which was more rain than we had accumulated in the previous two months. The “flash drought” of 2013 took a break, although this week is going to be dry.

Due to several rains over this past week, especially thunderstorms Thursday night, the lawn, which had been brown and dormant, was waking up. It wasn’t exactly shaggy looking—but grass was starting to grow, so I decided Saturday was the day to mow.


Rose in front garden. This bush did well, but one in back died and others didn’t grow or flower very well this year.

I had quite a few sticks to pick up first—I don’t think I had mowed since before RAGBRAI—but not near as many as you might think from a two month accumulation. If you don’t have thunderstorms, you don’t get a lot of branches knocked out of trees.

And I photographed growing things as I did my pre-mow cleanup.

In my yard, many things looked sad and wilted during the drought, but few things died. One flowering bush in the garden at the base of my retaining wall is barely clinging to life, a very few branches sparsely populated by withered leaves, most of it brown and clearly dead.


Crab apple. This is one of the older ones in front (not the one that I say is sparse).

The dry months came after a wet spring, and the wet spring seemed to give most plants enough strength to make it through the dry months. I was impressed, in particular, at how well three young trees did. I have one maple, a sweet gum and a dogwood tree, all three the survivors of an Arbor Day set planted last year. Naturally, the more serious drought last year was very hard on very young trees, so I’m not surprised only three made it to this spring.

But the three that did, for the most part, did very well despite their small size and tender age. The maple, in particular, more than doubled in size. The sweet gum was much more modest in growth, and I don’t know if that’s because it was in the upper yard, which is probably dryer, while the maple is down near the fence in the lower yard at the bottom of the hill, or if this sweet gum just grows more slowly than this kind of maple.

The young dogwood suffered some, and looked wilted during the drought, but never got brown and perked up after each watering.


Two views of coneflowers. Native plants that bore the drought well. Just looking like fall, now.


I also planted three flowering trees this year—two crab apples and a Yoshino cherry tree. We actually bought four trees on sale in July, and one of my daughters planted the other Yoshino cherry, which seems to have died in her yard. Mine—the cherry tree—is still alive, but had a fair amount of damaged leaves and often looked very sad between watering during the drought. Of the two crab apples, the one I like the most is the Prairie Fire, just because it is a well-known very pretty pink flowering tree that is new to my yard. About a third of that tree died in the dry weather, so we’ll see how it comes back, or if it comes back, in spring. The white crab apple, down in the bottom of the yard like the maple tree, apparently didn’t get the memo that there was a drought. I always felt this was the hardest of the three new trees to water because it’s on a slope and water apparently would just run off rather than pool at the base of the tree—but, again, of the three, this is the tree that didn’t notice the drought.

Of my established trees, one crab apple in front looks a bit barren. It has only a few leaves clinging here and there on its branches. I don’t think the tree is dying, however, because I think it had enough leaves to store some fuel in its roots for next year. We shall see.

The hawthorn, which, as you might recall, lost 2/3 of its top this spring, did not grow much this year, but what is there appears healthy. It stopped growing when dry weather hit, but maybe that means this year’s grown has had plenty of time to toughen up for winter. Let’s hope so.


Japanese lantern in front garden.

The grass in the yard, of course, went brown. I did not water it. I know from experience in past droughts that whatever grass species was planted in my yard, it goes dormant and comes back fairly well when dry weather hits and then rains later fall.

And so, Saturday, I mowed, on the final day of astronomical summer, for the first time in months. Was it the ultimate or penultimate mow of 2013? Given how late it is in September, I won’t mow much more—leaves are already starting to fall, and the carbon carpet will suppress further grass growth anyway. I will have to rake several times, and sometimes I do one post-rake mow to clean things up, sometimes not. Depends on the weather and how shaggy the grass looks.

In a dry year, it doesn’t look shaggy at all. Here’s hoping our wet week wasn’t merely a pause in a longer drought. I would prefer to have to mow again. And, even if they made it this far, I bet most of my plants, even the ones that acted tough and fought off the dry so far, would like a few more shots of water before winter, thank you.


My wife collects pine cones, which we use as winter fire starters in our firelace.


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