Master Gardeners Susan Roshto and A. Lynette Parsons will be visiting the West Chambers Branch Library on April 23 at 4:00 p.m. to answer your questions on drought preparation, plant and insect problems, or generally assist with yard and garden issues. Bring your photos, leaves, or bugs in jars!
Preparing for Drought
With our recent thunderstorms, it’s hard to imagine that the Houston area is in a “major drought” condition. But several months of consecutive low rainfall have dropped us back to conditions similar to that of 2 years ago. Now is the ideal time to think about how to prepare your yard, garden, and home for this situation.
For starters, the “Forty Gallon Challenge” is a new program through Texas Agri-Life Extension. Millions of gallons of water, as well as lots of cash on your utility bills, can be saved with very simple changes in water use inside the home. Visit the website at www.40gallonchallenge.org to learn more.
Lawns are a major source of water use: turf is the country’s largest irrigated crop. Over 50 percent of the water used in Texas during the summer is used for irrigation, and about half of that is for lawns. Most lawns that have been sodded are using non-native grasses, like St. Augustine, which look beautiful, but have high maintenance and disease tendencies. If you’re a serious lawn lover, and spend lots of time and money on weed and feed, fertilizer, and watering, consider whether these activities and funds could be better spent by changing your lawn space over to ground covers or to a turf variety that doesn’t mind dry years.
Our trees suffered a great deal during our drought a couple years ago, and even though they may look okay, additional drought will cause additional stress, which translates into limbs dropping, less fruit and nut production, or even the loss of the tree. Several satsumas in the area have been lost recently (evidently due to moisture stress), and why this citrus was affected so greatly by the drought when other citrus nearby have not is a bit of a mystery. But it’s a warning that trees need watering, especially if they aren’t getting rain. But the watering needs to be deep, slow, and weekly. Don’t turn your garden hose on under the tree, leave it for an hour, and expect it to work; what you’ll end up with is wasted water in the ditch. Newly planted trees need 1 inch of water per week. During a drought, try to provide 5 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter three times a week. The loss of a mature tree is a very expensive loss indeed.
Then there are the flower beds: in a word, mulch! A thick layer of newspapers, with a layer of mulch on top, not only conserves water, but discourages the weeds and makes them particularly easy to control if they move in. But also consider the wonderful variety of native plants available; you don’t have to make your beds wildflower gardens, but many plants we have are drought tolerant, attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and provide lovely cut flowers. Hanging baskets are a lovely feature in the garden, but require a lot of water, so take that under advisement if you’re considering them for this summer.
Vegetable gardens are more of an issue than flower beds during a drought; we can tolerate the loss of a few roses, but the loss of tomatoes hurts! Mulch is again an important factor in keeping the roots moist and comfortable, and a good watering system, like drip irrigation, is much more valuable than a garden hose spraying into the air. Vegetables get stressed quickly in dry conditions, which leads to opportunities for insect and disease damage, and the quick loss of the crops. So once again, water deeply on a regular schedule, not a sprinkle or two with the hose. And keep the evaporation level down by the use of mulch.
The River Oaks Garden Club has recently published the 5th edition of “A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast.” This article contains several suggestions directly from this book, which is undoubtedly the best local source for gardening for our area, and which will be so for some years. Copies are now available at your Chambers County libraries for loan.
For more information or assistance with your lawn and garden, contact the Texas Agri-Life Extension Office at White’s Park.