Lessons Learned from the Drought
I was out and about last weekend — at a home-and-garden show and a book-signing — and the majority of questions people asked me were about dealing with the drought. Really the same questions I get on the radio show, but meeting people face-to-face, I got to see the pained looks on their faces.
It's hard to put any sort of positive spin on our drought, but one gentleman wearing a tie with a cross on it (appropriate for Sunday) had a question that gave me the idea for this week's email blast.
He noted that other "gardening experts" have said that this year's drought is proving that St. Augustine grass uses too much of our water supply. In fact, one columnist said that we shouldn't use turf grasses at all in our landscapes, because of their excessive need for water.
First, the man with the tie wanted to know if that was true. And, if so, were there any alternatives to St. Augustine available?
It's a fact that St. Augustine grass requires significantly more water than two other grasses we can grow here — Bermuda and zoysia. And this year's lack of rain may very well bring buffalo grass back to the mainstream, since it's considered the most drought-tolerant turf available. However, I have never liked buffalo grass — I consider it Bermuda on Quaaludes.
You may also be surprised to learn that, in general, St. Augustine grass actually requires more moisture than an established tree! But even Bermuda and zoysia require more water than heat-loving landscape plants. So, there — that's something to be learned from our drought. Here's a list of drought-tolerant plants from a previous email newsletter.
You should also know that many ground covers are even better choices than grasses or plants, especially in the shade of big trees whose roots compete for moisture. Ground covers like Asian jasmine, Algerian and English ivies, monkey grass, dwarf monkey grass and liriope are all good alternatives. The irony is that ground covers and drought-tolerant plants require plenty of moisture during their first year to get established. So now is not the time to plant them. However, once established, all those alternatives are far more water-efficient than any turf grass.
So, our drought may have a silver lining ... getting us to think about using more drought-tolerant plants, ground covers and grasses for the future. And teaching us to properly plant replacement trees so they can better battle future droughts. And prompting us to prepare the soil differently if we still want to use turf grass. You should find out about "expanded shale." For months to come, it will be our best friend when planting and re-planting trees lost to the drought.
Also, we should learn that a richer soil with more organic matter than most people have right now is a great way to help fight off the effects of drought. Although most of my neighbors are watering their lawns every day just to keep their grass alive, most of them wouldn't have to if they had worked ample amounts of organic matter into the soil over time. I don't water every day, and I have the greenest yard on the block. That's because I also have the deepest, richest, organic soil profile on the block.
It's becoming pretty obvious to me that a big yard of mostly turf could well be a thing of the past. Maybe not in my lifetime, but if weather events like this become more consistent, it will have to happen. While we are cursing the lack of water today, I can honestly see us looking back in future years and thanking this drought for changing the way we think about organically rich soil, grass alternatives, ground-cover alternatives, the way we plant trees, and drought-tolerant landscapes.
exclusively on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.
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