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Gardening in High Summer

Valuable Tips on Heat, Rain Barrels and more

Bumblebee on penstemon.

August is well underway, with all the challenges of keeping village gardens looking fresh through extended periods of heat and drought. The Watershed turns to our favourite local Butterflyway Garden ladies, Val Morton and Hana Moye, to share a few tips for the high summer season.

How can gardeners keep their gardens alive when water is restricted?

Watering in the morning and using mulches to keep the soil moist are very important, advises Hana. Prioritizing what to water and reusing water safely will also help keep our landscapes healthy during drought conditions.

Best practices for watering plants apply to all water sources:

  • Water at the root of the plant, taking care not to splash the fruit.

  • Drip irrigation, soaker hoses, low emitters and hand watering work best (when permitted by Village regulations).

  • If using rain barrel water, water by hand.

  • Avoid watering plants from above or using overhead sprinklers, as this can cause leaf spot diseases. Overhead watering can also splash soil-borne pathogens (bacteria, fungi) onto plant leaves and cause plant diseases.

For more information, see Watering the vegetable garden and Water Wisely.

Bumble bee on nodding onion.

What time of day is best for watering in a drought?

Hana says if watering is required, do it between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. to reduce water loss due to evaporation or wind. Remember to water deeply and less often to promote deeper, healthy roots. And when watering your garden, ensure that you are complying with current Lions Bay water usage restriction levels.

What can we do to support local bees and butterflies when the weather is very dry?

Val offers a few suggestions to help our local pollinators through the dry months.

  • Provide a shallow dish of water, with pebbles that are slightly out of the water. Place the bowl close to their source of food.

  • Provide drought-tolerant, pollinator-friendly plants. Flowering herb pots are a good nectar source. Dead-head flowers during late summer to provide a constant source of nectar.

  • Spray flowers with a misting spray so bees can pick up moisture.

For these and other ideas, check out Jayne Dowle's gardening site.

What is grey water, and how can it be useful in the garden?

Hana notes you can conserve and reuse water, such as using dishwater, water from coolers, and even capturing water from the shower in buckets to water your plants. A few things to keep in mind when using this grey water:

  • Avoid reusing dishwater that contains a lot of soap as it can burn foliage, especially when applied in hot sun.

  • Don’t reuse water that has had meat or bones cooked in it, as the fat residue can attract animals.

  • You can reuse water used to cook vegetables, just let it cool down first before applying.

What about rain barrels? Are they a good idea?

There are many benefits to using a rain barrel, says Hana.

  • Rain barrels reduce municipal water use, allowing the watering of plants when restrictions otherwise limit water.

  • Rainwater is slightly acidic and may contain minerals that benefit plants.

  • Rain barrels provide an alternative water source for landscape plants.

  • Rain barrel water is a good option for watering your houseplants. Some indoor plants such as orchids or plants with long narrow leaves are sensitive to softened tap water that may contain additives like chloride and fluoride.

Pine White on yarrow at trail head.

However, rain barrels must be cleaned and maintained to prevent algae from clogging the water outlet. Water collected in a rain barrel is not considered a potable water source, meaning it is not drinkable and has not been tested to meet microbial water quality standards to protect public health. Because the water from a rain barrel is not potable, it should NOT touch the edible part of any plant such as greens, fruit, root vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. At the height of summer, take advantage of your empty rain barrels to clean and disinfect them for next year. For more information, read How to clean and care for a rain barrel.

Looking to the future, can you recommend indigenous, drought-resistant plants for LB gardens?

Val points to several examples:

  • Red currant (Ribes sanguineum) spring blooming; pollinator friendly

  • Penstemon (Beardtongue) their tubular shape lends themselves to pollination by hummingbirds and bees

  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) summer blooming; pollinator friendly and host plant for caterpillars

  • Salal (Gaultheria shallon) drought and moisture tolerant; summer blooms; pollinator friendly; berries eaten by birds

  • Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium and Mahonia nervosa) drought and moisture tolerant; spring blooms; pollinator friendly; birds love the berries

  • Sedum (fall blooming)

  • Douglas aster (Symphyotrichum subspicatum) drought tolerant, but thrives in moist soil; late summer to fall blooms; pollinator friendly

  • Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) - late summer and fall blooms; drought tolerant; pollinator friendly

  • Nodding onion - (Allium cernuum) drought tolerant and pollinator friendly; long-lasting summer blooms; pollinator friendlyThese plants are non-indigenous, but drought-tolerant and pollinator-friendly:

  • Lithodora (Lithodora diffusa) - low spreading shrub; drought tolerant to a degree; blooms early summer; attractive to bees: non-indigenous

  • Lavender (Lavandula) drought tolerant and pollinator friendly non-indigenous

  • Catmint (Nepeta) needs moisture to establish and then is drought and heat tolerant; pollinator friendly

  • Salvia - late summer/fall blooms; hummingbirds; heat and drought tolerant

What are the alternatives to growing a lawn that might make better use of local plants and require less water?

There are many alternatives to the high-maintenance grass lawn. Val particularly likes suggestions from the David Suzuki Foundation:

  • Plant wild strawberry.

  • Replace the lawn with drought-tolerant native plants.

  • Leave stumps, as dead wood can host more life than live trees

  • Plant a meadow using grasses and native plants

  • Smother the lawn with three layers of cardboard, then add soil and plants.

  • Plant a hedgerow at the border of your property.

  • Turn the lawn into a pollinator-friendly garden.

Locally we can also follow tips from the Fraser Valley Conservancy:

  • Plant clover - it adds nitrogen to the soil, is pollinator friendly, pest resistant and drought-tolerant.

  • Create a moss lawn - not drought-tolerant, but moss grows well in shady areas and acidic soil

  • Plant low-growing, creeping sedum varieties that will attract pollinators and be drought-tolerant

  • Plant a rock garden using drought-tolerant, low maintenance plants

  • Plant yarrow - provides flowers for pollinators and only needs to be mowed twice a year. choose from low-growing varieties

  • Plant creeping thyme

  • Plant chamomile (English variety) - not good for foot traffic

  • Use a flower mix such as ‘Bee turf” (West Coast Seeds)

  • Plant vegetables

Thanks to Hana Moye and Val Morton for such excellent suggestions and resources!

Do you have thoughts to share about gardening in high summer? Leave a comment below, or email

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