Drought tops list of gardening topics as we look back at 2016

gardens around water feature in West Seneca NY
This garden was on the West Seneca Tour of Gardens, one of 18 local garden walks held in 2016. The gardener took a noisy backyard and turned it into a private paradise. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
tree in drought dead leaves Amherst NY
This tree in Amherst, planted a few years ago, showed  stress in August from the drought. Unwatered lawns were yellow. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I was going to say that the drought is probably what Western New York gardeners will remember most about 2016, but we may have to get used to summers like this. Our climate patterns have changed, and Western New York gardeners should expect more hot, dry summers, according to Cornell University.

By June of this year it was already dry. By the beginning of August, Western New York was under a drought warning and gardeners were asked to conserve water. On Aug. 31, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a natural disaster declaration in certain counties in Western New York because of the drought, and farmers could be eligible for assistance, including emergency loans.

Starting in June we gave you tips on dealing with the drought. We told you how to water plants deeply and gave you suggestions on what plants to pamper (newly planted trees and shrubs) and what plants to skip watering (lawns). Some people couldn’t stand the yellow, crunchy grass and started watering, but by the end of summer, we finally got some rain and the lawns perked right up.

That doesn’t mean our problems were over. In October we still hadn’t gotten enough water to replenish the ground water. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website still has our area listed as being in a drought watch, the lowest of four stages of drought. That map is dated Nov. 3.

The U.S. Drought Monitor has a more nuanced map reporting data as of Dec. 13, which you can also see below. It has five levels of drought ranging from the lowest, D0 (abnormally dry), to the highest, D4 (exceptional drought). Most of Chautauqua and Cattarugus counties are shown as having no drought, since they got some lake-effect snow (1.5-3.0 inches liquid equivalent precipitation) that missed the rest of the area. A band above those counties is listed as abnormally dry and the rest of Western New York is still listed as moderate drought.

map of drought in Western New York
This drought map dated Dec. 13, 2016 shows that lake effect snow has helped Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, but the rest of Western New York is still abnormally dry or in moderate drought. The key to the map is below. The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC-UNL
key for drought map
U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC-UNLconsist of rainfall occurring in short, hard downpours, with longer dry periods in between those rain events. When we do get rain, instead of soaking in, the rain may run off the hard, dry soil.

New pests were another hot topic for gardeners. We’re still trying to get a handle on the red lily leaf beetle and the brown marmorated stink bug. The red lily leaf beetle eats lilies and has done some extensive damage. The brown marmorated stink bug eats a variety of plants, but is so new that its population probably isn’t large enough yet to do extensive damage.

As usual, gardeners were looking for ways to keep deer and rabbits from eating their plants.

A new source of gardening information started this year. WNY Gardening Matters is published by the Master Gardeners of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Erie County. They let me know when the latest articles are ready so that I can share them with you. The Cooperative Extensions in the other counties also let me know about talks and workshops that they scheduled, and I passed that on to my readers.

The highlight of the year for many  gardeners were the garden walks and Open Gardens. A new garden walk debuted in Grand Island and for the first time ever, a garden walk, called Scene Around Town, was held in Springville. Many areas around the country have only one garden walk, but I counted 18 garden walks in Western New York this year, including Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest garden tour in the nation. A new garden walk in Pendleton is being planned for 2017.

Not only is it fun to see lovely gardens, you can learn so much by seeing what other gardeners are doing and getting tips from them. We told you about a gardener who rescues shrubs and trees that were set out for the trash, gave you tips from organic gardeners, showed you how one gardener took a challenging slope and turned it into a focal point in his landscape and shared how another gardener turned a noisy backyard into a private paradise.

The summer also brought the Celebration of Coleus and Color at the Botanical Gardens, and Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com was again proud to sponsor the exhibit. We gave you tips about coleus that you can use in your garden.

There has been so much happening at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens that it’s hard to keep up with them. In addition to all of the events and classes, work on two of the buildings and a makeover of the exhibits inside is almost complete. Look for those to open to the public on Jan. 14. Those improvements join the Proven Winners Signature Garden at the entrance and the outdoor Healing Garden behind the main building, both installed in 2015.

I was proud that Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com received two awards this year. The first was a Silver Medal of Achievement, the top award in the category of E-newsletter Overall, from GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators. The second was Business of the Year from PLANT WNY, the trade association for the professional landscape and nursery trades in Western New York.

I want to thank you for making all this possible. My readers give me valuable feedback, and I appreciate all of your support. You have shared your own gardening experiences and tips by leaving great comments. Thank you for making this a great year!

I’m taking a short respite, and I look forward to bringing you more gardening news, tips, photos and videos when I resume publishing on Jan. 17.

Have a happy new year!







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