Good morning, Alabama! Photo: Steve Bender

It's a beautiful morning today at my home in north-central Alabama. The air is cool and crisp, the sand dunes shimmer with the first rays of dawn, and the only sounds I hear are the quiet murmurs of Bedouins and camels passing by in the distance. Only a few months ago, trees and shrubs and flowers and grass marred this tranquil picture. Then it stopped raining.

Not a drop of rain in the last half of August. Not a drop in September. Not a drop in October. Not a drop so far in November. On the bright side, the dry air feels delightful unless you're a mold. Your hair doesn't frizz during the walk between the front door and the mailbox. Every day is perfect for painting or an outdoor wedding. Pouring concrete? Go ahead, pour!

Of course, you Debbie Downers out there will undoubtedly emphasize the negatives of our new Southern Desert. Lack of rain and water restrictions mean dead and dying plants. The drought hasn't stopped at killing water hogs, like French hydrangeas, weeping willow, coleus, impatiens, and toad lilies. It's also decimated bulldog plants you've never had to water before -- Southern magnolia, elaeagnus, Japanese holly, Leyland cypress, loropetalum, and even juniper. About the only shrub that seems unfazed so far is nandina. Figures.

What To Do Now If you struggle to find the beauty in sandscaping, you may be wondering, "With no significant rain in the forecast, is there anything worth doing in the garden?" Here are a couple of suggestions. (I apologize to the green industry for any harm they cause, but my first loyalties are always with you, my faithful readers.)

Seeding and sodding the lawn. Really bad idea at this time. Establishing a new lawn means watering every day for weeks unless it rains. It isn't raining.

Watering the lawn. R U kidding me? This makes absolutely no sense, especially for warm-season lawns that naturally turn brown at this time of year and go dormant. Dormant lawns don't need watering. Cool-season lawns, like bluegrass and fescue, do need water from fall through spring, but if water restrictions say you can't water, you can't. Hope for rain soon.

What you can plant now. The first things that come to mind are spring bulbs. Spring bulbs don't need water now. You can also plant containers of pansies, violas, and other cool-weather flowers that you water by hand. You can plant deciduous trees and shrubs. They've lost their leaves and need little water beyond an initial soaking. But don't plant anything evergreen, until the rain returns. Their leaves lose water every day.

What to do for plants already in the ground. As I said, dormant plants that have dropped their leaves need little water now. Evergreens are your biggest concern. Cool temperatures mean they'll need far less water than they would in summer, but if you see an evergreen with dropping or browning leaves, you have a choice. Water it or let it die.

Collect and use inside water that would normally go down the drain. You know how when you're washing dishes you prefer hot water, yet it takes 20 seconds of running it before the water turns hot? Collect that cold water and use it to water plants. If you're really hardcore, take a bucket into the shower or bathtub and do the same.

Look at the Bright Side Meanwhile, back in the desert, Grumpy prefers to contemplate the benefits of his new sand garden. First, the dunes never need mowing. Second, I never have to prune. Third, I no longer need my leaf blower. In fact, I just sold mine to a guy in a caravan that passed by last week. Finally, I've adopted a great new pet.


Meet Snappy, my death stalker scorpion. He patrols my garden each day and quickly dispatches any bugs. I'm getting to like this sand gardening. There's so little I have to do.