From New Mexico to California and up through Oregon, drought continues to challenge growing conditions. According to the North American Drought Monitor, southern coastal California is considered to have exceptional drought and eastern parts of Oregon are distinguished as moderate to severe drought. How are growers coping?
According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA), the first decade of the 2000s saw extensive drought and extensive moisture. As of May 2016, the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) reported that some moderate drought was alleviated in the northern portion of California.
“We learned to operate with minimal water,” said Reiner Kruger, Technical Services Coach at Monrovia, located in Azusa. “We weren’t affected by the drought but we are sensitive to it. Through good fortune, we use efficient sprinklers and a lot of drip irrigation.”
Replacing plants with xeric native plants or waterwise groundcovers and irrigating properly are two examples of how to get ahead of the curve. Kruger recommends plants that would root deeply and pull more water out of the ground.
“Yucca-type plants and grasses and succulents are great,” he said.
Kruger did see a shift in which plants are being purchased by customers.
“As we respond to customer needs, we change the plant palette,” he said. “We’re going in the direction of smaller shrubs and waterwise plants.”
As for transporting plants across states, there aren’t any noticeable problems.
About 15.1 percent of the United States was classified as experiencing moderate to exceptional drought at the end of March 2016, according to the USDM. The agency also reported that abnormally dry conditions will be introduced over central and northeast Oregon as of early May.
With drought being moderate to severe in Oregon, Chuck Pavlich, Product Director for Terra Nova Nurseries, explained that some haven’t felt the drought conditions facing the rest of the west. Terra Nova deals with drought conditions differently.
“We conserve in our daily lives and we carry this forward to our livelihoods,” Pavlich said. “We do always make an effort to be efficient in our water usage.”
Consumers have become much more aware of the drought conditions. Pavlich mentioned that Terra Nova works with the most drought-tolerant species of Echinacea and Agastache that are invaluable in landscapes.
Does Pavlich see the drought affecting the business one year down the road? Not really.
He doesn’t foresee noticeable change in the coming year, and the company’s expectations are for wider acceptance and expansion of smaller shrubs and waterwise plants. With plant transportation across states, Terra Nova Nurseries hasn’t noticed any adverse conditions with shipping.
Thankfully, Pavlich noted that drought-affected areas are just now discovering their native-bred perennials and that the market share of such plants will increase within the next few years.
Summer of 2016 will really show how much damage last year’s weather has caused, he said. “Oregon has been having record high temperatures earlier every year, and the prediction for the near future is more of the same,” Pavlich said. “Oregon and Washington are facing longer, drier summers and shorter, more mild and rainy winters.”
Snowpack and El Niño
Snow is crucial in the equation of drought. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) 2014 report, snowpack serves as an important natural storage reservoir since California receives most of its precipitation during the winter months. The same NRDC report claims that snowpack is projected to decline by 25 to 40 percent by 2050.
Pavlich also noted that Oregon has recovered from the record low snowfall from the winter of 2014 and 2015.
What does it mean for the western United States?
The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s report noted that the snow water equivalent was at or above normal for most of the basins in the western United States. Snowpack in the Sierra Mountains was below normal, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.
“The state of California has taken a very proactive direction with an eye toward water,” Kruger said. “The state is mandating all new construction to have waterwise plants, for example.”
El Niño also has a significant effect on drought in the West. The effects of the storm are most dramatic in the winter, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. The storm brings a warm winter in the northwestern regions of the United States.
“It was predicted to be an El Niño year and it has rained a little more than the last four years, but that’s not enough to break the drought,” Kruger said.
“It has increased the awareness of water and water supplies,” he continued. “There’s also a larger awareness of snowpack and mountains.”
However, with El Niño falling short this year in ending California’s drought, residents must still keep conserving water as they have been.
“A lot of times people don’t know what’s going to happen,” Kruger said. “You can’t see the storm coming in California compared to other states. Out here, it can be a complete surprise. We’ve gone through several droughts and we’ve learned from it.”
Read more: The beauty of waterwise plants