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Home gardeners struggled with drought

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 3, 2012 - The area may finally be getting sustained rain, but for many gardeners, this has been a summer they would like to forget. Some did find solutions to the heat and put in extra time and effort to keep flowers and vegetables alive.

Donna Frederick, 44 of Dupo, said she is "obsessed" with gardening and normally has flowers all around her house. By late summer, however, she said many of her plants started to dry up and die due to the heat. Her hydrangea bush, which was beautiful in the spring, became a pile of sticks.

In an attempt to keep water bill costs down, Frederick said she chose only to water her front garden and her potted plants, which made it through the heat.

Frederick is not alone in her gardening struggles. Judi Linvill and her husband work a 10 by 20 garden plot at the Wayside Gardens in Normandy.

Linvill said she uses organic matter such as manure donated to the garden and her own compost. She does not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

She was able to harvest enough radishes, spinach, beets, carrots and onions to share with friends. Linvill said swiss chard is a versitile vegetable because it is not damaged by the heat. Her garden, she said is also overrun with tomatoes.

Although Linvill has seen exceptional sucess from her garden, it has not come without effort. Her husband commutes to the garden every morning at 5:30 to water the plants with milk jugs full of water, and then a second time later in the day.

The key, Linvill said, to keeping a garden alive is to mulch everything very heavily. Plus she advised against overwatering and killing bugs as soon as you see them.

"It's a commitment," she said.

Helping people learn what to do is the job of Ryan Barker, Gateway Greening community educator and St. Louis Master Gardener. Bugs and poor pollination have added to the dry problems.

He agrees with Linvill about the need to mulch, suggesting a 2-3 inch layer around the plants with no exposed soil. "That helps tremendously," he said. It soaks up the water and keeps it continuously moist.

One thing that really likes the hot weather, according to Barker, is the spider mite. If it looks like something is chipping away the green on the plants, he said, the culprit is most likely spider mites. And he supports using organic insecticides and miticide.

Helpful insects, such as bees are not as active in the hot conditions, and that contributes to the poor pollination problem.

Still, Barker said he would rather battle hot and dry weather. "Because of the hot and dry weather, there is less disease and bacteria," he said. "You can always water more. Fungus is harder to deal with for home gardeners."