Under the prevailing drought conditions, local arborist Heather Green said she would sacrifice some or all of her annuals and perennials for a BLT.
Well, not exactly.
Green, head of the The Village of Oak Lawn’s forestry division, said she’d pick saving her tomatoes over some of her other seasonal plants if push came to shove during the trying times that have forced gardeners in the Chicago metro area to make difficult choices.
She said rainfall totals for the year were running at about half the pace of 2011 through mid-July (11.61 inches to 21.68), according to a study done by the Morton Arboretum.
“It really depends on the watering ban that your town is in,” Green said. “I’d probably let my annuals go, let some of my perennials that are established go, but I’d want my tomatoes. That’s just me and my garden.
“Keep in mind if we’re rationing water what’s the most important. We still need water to drink. We need water to live. And we want to make sure we don’t waste our water on things that we don’t need to water.”
Bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich season arrives with many gardeners wondering whether they’ll be able to feast in normal fashion on those Big Boys or whether they’ll need to find a suitable substitute for locally grown tomatoes.
Nothing beats tree- and vine-ripened fruits and vegetables, right?
“Yeah, you want to keep those tomatoes alive,” said Heather Blackmore, a master gardener with the University of Illinois extension service. “And watering will keep them alive. Tomatoes like it hot, but not this hot.
“When it gets this hot, it stunts the production of the fruit. Who knows what the plants are going to look like when it comes time to pick tomatoes. I’m sure we’re not going to have the abundance of fruit that we’ve had in other years.”
Blackmore said she’s never seen conditions this bad—she’s too young to recall the droughts of 1988 or ’95.
“This has been a big lesson for me,” she said. “And I would suggest others take time to observe what’s growing and what’s going to make it this year. It will help you when you decide what to plant next year and for years to come.
“My Shasta daisies and sedums and cone flowers are doing well. I’d recommend using those types of hot weather plants again.”
On the other hand, Blackmore said to stay away from a species like a River Birch tree.
“It put it in years ago before I considered how sensitive it would be to these kinds of conditions, the hot dry weather that we’ve had. Some trees do not go through a drought very well. They lose leaves. My River Birch withers away. Do your homework. Pick plants that are drought tolerant.”