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The Green Life: Extreme Weather Gardening

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February 27, 2014

Extreme Weather Gardening

Snowdrops break through the snowWinter has not been kind to a majority of the United States. Virtually the entire country was mired in a polar vortex, and now storm after storm seemingly batters the country. On the flip-side, California is stranded in a record drought, which may seem to be less pressing than the rest of the country's problems, but in reality is extremely threatening. One thing that both of these weather systems encourage is extreme weather gardening, which is sadly not an event at this year's Winter X Games. Whether you're stuck in a blizzard or a heat wave, here are some plants and tips that can help make your garden impervious to the elements.

Winter Warriors

Vegetables such as broccoli, onions, cabbage, and carrots are all good winter options, though its best to harvest before the frost. Tulips, on the other hand, require the cold temperature of winter to flower in the spring. In Pam Penick's book Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard, there is a detailed list of regional plant recommendations for cold climates. She describes plants such as the perennial wildflower prairie smoke, a plant indigenous to the frozen tundra of the northern plains states, that is built to survive even the toughest winters. Another plant known for its ability to beat the cold, Galanthus nivalis, or as it is more commonly referred to as snowdrop or common snowdrop, flowers in late winter, sometimes peeking through the remaining snow. Snowdrop is native throughout Europe but has been present in the U.S. since colonization.

Another way to winterize your garden is to strategically plant trees and shrubs that can protect your home from the wind and help you save on heating costs. When planted in the right places, shrubs and trees can dramatically reduce wind speed around your home.

Cracked earth from droughtDrought Survivors

California Governor Jerry Brown recently declared a drought state of emergency for California. But while the mild and rainless California winter may seem appealing to those being battered by the cold, it has very serious ramifications. With only 20% of normal snowpack levels, saving water is at a premium both in the garden and in the home.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to better suit your yard or garden for drought conditions is to replace your grass lawn with drought-resistant plants like cacti and succulents. The EPA estimates that Americans use 7.8 billion gallons of water every day outdoors, mostly on irrigation, and replacing your lawn with drought resistant plants can make an immense difference.

Penick's book describes plants such as silver carpet and blue fescue as sustainable alternatives to lawns. These plants are native to Southern California and maintain the decorative feel of grass. Flowering shrubs such as damianita and trailing indigo bush are also perfect for drought-proofing your garden or yard, as they are heat tolerant and require very little watering.

This winter has been extreme pretty much throughout the country, whether it be unseasonal heat or hyper-seasonal cold. But regardless of what the weather throws at you, it's still possible to maintain your garden and save water and heating costs along the way.

--Images by iStockphoto/clintspencer and iStockphoto/brozova

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.

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