Growing

Tree Collards and Drought

By September 30, 2020October 15th, 2020No Comments
Young Purple Tree Collard Plant

Help Your Plants Become More Drought Tolerant

Tree collards are drought tolerant perennial vegetables. When I am taking many tree collard cuttings at once, my hands accumulate a white powder which is part of the plants drought adaptation. The milky powder covers the stems and leaves, whether visible or not, and helps act as a sunscreen/moisture retaining barrier of sorts. It also helps reflect heat. This is most prominent on the Purple Tree Collards, but is present on all of them. Based on customer feedback, the Purple Tree Collard variety still is the most heat and drought tolerant variety.

All tree collards need water to get established when they are young. After they are about a year old, they can survive drought-like conditions, although their leaves will become smaller and the plants will appear less robust.

A critical aspect of a successful drought tolerant garden is incorporating organic matter or compost into the soil. Organic matter in the soils helps soil fertility by providing food for microbes, fungi, algae, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, worms, etc. Homemade compost with different sized particles of organic matter is helpful because it breaks down at different rates in your soil, acting as a slow but constant food source to all that reside in the soil. Homemade compost can also be better than commercial compost because it often contains a wider variety of ingredients. The more diverse the compost pile is, the better. Ours include: cooking scraps from the kitchen, coffee grounds, rabbit poop, chicken manure, bamboo leaves, rice straw, fruit tree leaves in varying states of decay, plant clippings from dozens of species of plants, hair, feathers, and wood chips, to name a few. Boosting biological activity in your soils will result not only in healthier plants, but will greatly improve water holding capacity. When you do water, the water goes further by staying in the soils longer, making it more available to plant roots. The healthier your plants, the easier they will adapt to drought conditions.

Mulching the soil surface is also extremely important in helping the soil retain the water that it does receive. You don’t want any bare, exposed soil in your garden. A secondary benefit of mulching is that it tends to suppress weeds from colonizing your garden. For the garden beds on the farm, we use rice straw as mulch to cover and protect the drip irrigation from UV exposure and to keep the precious soils covered.

Wood chips from local arborists is what we use on our paths. Always ask arborists about the health of the tree that was pruned or removed and check on the species. Some trees such as Eucalyptus, Walnut, and Camphor can add toxic compounds into the soil that harm your other plants. Trees with Verticillium Wilt or Oak Root Fungus could infect your garden with those diseases.

Having grown up in California, my awareness of water conservation began in the 1970s with a memorable drought in my childhood. The drought of 1979 instilled in my awareness to save water by not using it. However, it wasn’t until I became an avid urban farmer that I began to implement  water saving strategies on a larger scale. Some of these include using grey water from the laundry, catching rainwater into a 1500 gallon cistern, using drip irrigation, and using a water-less home-made composting toilet or only flushing the porcelain toilet as needed. In these times of changing climates, we need to be prepared for unpredictable weather patterns by giving our plants the best conditions possible and by conserving water, rainwater harvesting, and reusing water safely.