Here in central Oklahoma, we have had less than 0.1 inch of rain in 6 weeks. We have also had baking heat of 100º for a couple weeks. We would like to think this flash drought and heat wave are unusual, but climate trends are showing us otherwise.
Therefore, I am watering my front yard native plant meadow. Following our city’s water conservation guidelines, I set up my sprinkler at dawn and water for two hours about once a week for the last three weeks. Yes, the native plants I have should be adapted to my region. Yes, I planted this meadow so I don’t have to care for a lawn. Yes, it would be “more natural” to let the plants deal with current weather conditions.
However, as much as I would like it to be, my front yard is not a self-sustaining ecosystem. My beautiful little patch of waving tall grasses and cheery native sunflowers is artificial and will need my help – forever. In fact, most habitat improvement projects will need human input to be sustained. The suburban setting that I am working in has been manipulated so much that it would be *impossible to replace the original habitat. Before my neighborhood was built in the early 1960s, my yard was part of a cotton farm, which permanently altered the soil, seed bank, and hydrology. Not to mention that my little meadow is still surrounded by houses, streets, dogs and feral cats, and non-native plants. So my prairie patch is a tiny island in a sea of Bermuda grass and concrete. Such small fragments can’t sustain themselves without intervention. If my plants crisp up in a drought, there aren’t seed sources from a moister site within dispersal distance. Additionally, there aren’t other patches of habitat that pollinators and birds can use. My square of prairie is one of the few refuges for urban wildlife.
So… I water my meadow to keep the flowers blooming for the pollinators, to ensure seeds and fruits are available for winter birds, and to guarantee there will be beautiful natural diversity on our block in the future.