Sure, the drought was bad. And it put many of us on our heels. But that's no reason to stop gardening or landscaping completely.
Still, that's sort of the sentiment I'm finding in many emails to the GardenLine radio show.
In most cases, any landscape plant or shrub that was lost to drought was doomed for a very simple reason: it didn't get enough water. Look around, and think about it. If some irrigation was provided to almost any landscape plant, it made it though the summer fine. And even if we go through another summer like the past one (and that is what's predicted), that shouldn't stop you from putting in new landscape plants. As long as you are water-wise, you can still have a landscape or garden during a drought.
If you are among those who think you can't plant anything now because we've had our first freezing temperatures, you would be completely wrong. It is actually perfectly fine to plant trees and shrubs before the next round of cold weather. In the Houston/Tomball area, it can be 35 degrees and still be okay to plant many evergreen shrubs and trees. That's because, despite cooler air temperatures, the ground doesn't get cold enough to prohibit roots from growing and establishing.
But, back to the point at hand. Don't let the 2011 drought stop you from landscape work! From my email, I detect that many people are worried about the cost of water, feeling they have been irrigating their lawns and landscapes more than normal. I understand that. And I realize that nobody wants to run up a small fortune in water bills each month.
Realistically, some people have been
paying more than they're used to. And that's probably because they have been over-using or misusing their irrigation systems. So, let me help you with the top 10 things to think about when it comes to irrigating landscapes. They'll make you water-wise and save you money.
- If you think your water bills are too high, and if you have an in-ground irrigation system, get an irrigation evaluation. A good landscape/irrigation-smart company can adjust and fix any issues that are wasting water. Money saved instantly!
- Use heat-loving drought-resistant plants. And don't wait until a drought to put them in. If you get them planted before the harsher weather, they will have established a root system, and with minimal moisture can survive almost any weather extreme.
- Consider xeriscape-adaptable plants for the future. (It's pronounced zeer-uh-scape.) Once established, xeriscape plants require less water and ultimately lower maintenance. And xeriscape is no longer just cactus and rocks. Texas A&M has many publications listing everything from small trees to perennials that fall into this category.
- Group landscape plants according to their water needs. If you've got a hibiscus and holly in the same bed, that's not smart.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch! The chapter "You Can Never Have Enough Mulch!" in my very first book has never been more applicable. And that doesn't just mean apply more inches; it also means do it more often.
- Don't water the gutters! Make simple adjustments to avoid watering paved areas more than necessary.
- Water your lawn only when it needs it. What so infuriates me is seeing a neighbor allowing their irrigation system to run on a daily basis. Yes, even today — several months after the harshest part of the drought and even after several soaking rains — his system is going off every morning. A good way to determine if you lawn needs watering is to step on the grass. If it springs back up when you move, it doesn't need water. If it stays flat, it is probably ready for a soaking.
- Deep soak! Be sure to water long enough for the moisture to get down to the roots. That's where it will do the most good. A light sprinkling can evaporate quickly and encourage shallow root growth.
- Water early in the day! Obviously, you should avoid watering on windy days, but if you water 5-9 a.m., it's statistically the least windy part of the day. And that means better coverage and infinitely less evaporation.
- Add organic matter whenever and wherever possible. The more organically rich the soil becomes, the less water a lawn or beds will require. And this goes beyond just adding mulch. I'm talking about adding things like compost and humates whenever and wherever possible. Adding organic foods also enrich the soil. Humates/humus make your lawn more drought-tolerant. In beds, compost and other organic matter further enrich the soil, and that makes your landscape more drought-tolerant, too.
This will be the final GardenLine newsletter for 2011. Have a happy holiday, and look for our next issue on Jan. 5.