Sunday, January 13, 2013


Have you notice a change in weather?  What was considered ‘normal’ is not necessarily the case!
A new plant or one newly transplanted is like a baby!

Some folks have too much water while others have too little!

Crops are damaged or ruined.  Prices of food increase.  Landscaping suffers or is lost.  The thought of ‘starting over’ can be overwhelming.

In the meantime, people scramble in an effort to ‘adjust to the new norm.’ 

For those of us who are trying to deal with a lack of rain and water restrictions imposed by local authorities; a couple of phrases are worthy of our attention.  They are ‘drought tolerant’ and ‘drought resistant.’ 

What comes to your mind when you hear those two terms?  Is there a difference in the two?  Does it really matter?

Well, there seems to be a difference of opinion.

One of my ‘local experts’ favored using the term ‘drought tolerant’ and mixed in a ‘handful’ of ‘drought resistant’ recommendations with no obvious difference in the two terms.

My other ‘local expert’ only mentioned a small amount of information on the topic of ‘drought tolerant.’

Online I favor websites sponsored by a university or government extension.  Again, I found ‘drought tolerant’ appearing more than the other term.  When a definition was offered, it did not always agree.

So, in your search for the right plant for the right spot, don’t be surprised if you find conflicting information too!

At times like this, I find comfort in using a dictionary for clarification; however, it does not combine the two words for each term.  We have no choice but to look at each word separately. 

According to Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary:

Drought – is “a prolonged period of dryness.” 

Notice that the dryness does not have to be accompanied with heat.  You could be going through a drought in the middle of winter, as well.  That being said water and mulch, if possible, before a freeze to help prevent damage. 

Tolerance – is “a relative capacity to endure or adapt physiologically to an unfavorable environmental factor.”

Resistance – is “an act or instance of resisting: opposition.” 

Therefore, I am inclined to go with the following explanations for the two terms:
'Tolerant' - can handle getting hit!

A plant that is ‘drought tolerant’ may survive and even grow, develop, and reproduce during “a prolonged period of dryness” without damage; but, the appearance of the plant may not be as pleasing to the eye.  The plant might turn brown from lack of water, and then, return to its original color of green with water.

In other words, if a plant is ‘drought tolerant’ then is can handle getting hit with a dry spell, but it may or may not be pretty! 

On the other hand … 

A plant that is ‘drought resistant’ is a real fighter!
'Resister' - "Oh yeah! Take that!"

It can resist the appearance of stress and stay green - in spite of – “a prolonged period of dryness.”

The plant can continue to grow, develop and reproduce under extreme circumstances without looking like its enduring ‘hard times.’ 

Maybe one day the term for ‘drought tolerant’ and ‘drought resistant’ will make it into the dictionary.

In the meantime, we will have to simply pay attention to the details of ‘how a plant responds’ to drought conditions when making a selection. 

Now, let’s look at some common denominators:

‘Drought tolerant’ or ‘drought resistant’ plants will be able to endure “a prolonged period of dryness” only after it has been ‘established’ that is “made firm” or “stable”. 

Keep in mind, a yard is not ‘established’ over night! 

Remember for some bushes/shrubs and trees it might take one or two seasons of ‘watering frequently’ and ‘deeply’ even when they are considered ‘tolerant’ or ‘resistant’ to drought. 

What may contribute to how quickly a plant is established?
  • Each plant grows at a different pace.
  • Is the plant an annual, perennial, or biennial?
  • What is the current size and maturity of the plant?  (A younger plant may adapt easier to new surroundings; however, an older plant will give you a better idea of how it will look at maturity and what condition it is in.)
  • What time of year are you planting – spring, summer, fall or winter?
  • What ‘pattern of light’ does it receive, and how windy is it? 
  • How well does your plant adapt to the type (clay, silt, sand or loam) and condition of the soil (air, water, minerals, living organisms, and organic matter)? 
  • Whether, or not, it has to compete with weeds or other plants for water and nutrients.  (A great aid for this is using organic mulch!)
  • Is the plant surrounded by a ‘hot surface’ that would ‘hold heat’ and ‘rob moisture?’ 
  • A surface that slopes can complicate distributing water evenly. 
  • If the plant gets the right amount of water – avoid bone dry or soggy wet!

Growing grass from seed may require water two to four times a day until it is established.

If you are using new sod for grass, it might need water one time a day for a week or two.

If a tree was planted right, then it should be soaked thoroughly one time every two weeks in a hotter season or one time a month in cooler seasons, in addition to, the regular water schedule for the plants surrounding the tree. 

Don’t be caught off guard! - A plant needs ‘tender loving care’ or ‘TLC’ when it is first planted or transplanted, regardless of what it can ‘tolerate’ or ‘resist.’ 

A new plant can be compared to a little baby.  It takes time for its roots to grow into a strong root system that can store food and endure ‘hard times’ like a dry spell.
See the roots developing?
... more water is needed
A new plant or one newly transplanted is like a baby!

It takes time for a plant to develop a strong root system.

Until it is established, more water is needed – not less! 

A plant that has been uprooted and transplanted will also need ‘TLC’ and time to ‘heal,’ as well as, ‘adjust’ to its new surroundings. 

Okay, I think this may be a good time to pause.  This is a lot of information to ‘digest’!

In the next article, we will consider what you can do to help a plant endure less water; clues that a plant needs water; how to know if your plant is alive or dead; and what can be done to help a plant recover.

... until then, have a good day!

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