With all the news of climate change these days, it’s high time we understand our state’s feast or famine past. Throughout our long geologic history, the Texas landscape has been everything from high and dry to soaking at the bottom of the ocean. Therefore, our existence here is literally about the presence of water.
If you’ve traveled or lived around our vast state, you realize that the average rainfall in Texas ranges from almost 60 inches in the southeast to almost six inches in the far west; literally from swamp to desert. And as 2011 and 2022 taught us, there’s no guarantee that you will receive any!
We are a land of extremes. As a matter of fact, Texas holds several weather-related records for the Continental United States including the wettest hurricane (60.58 inches in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey) and the highest 24-hour rainfall (43 inches at Alvin in1979 during Tropical Storm Claudette).
It’s the high and dry, not the wallowing and wet, that consumes the thoughts of most East Texas gardeners. But I figured out years ago when living in relatively arid San Antonio, that more of the public’s gardening troubles were associated with too much water than too little. Listen to any lecture on plant pathology and you’ll learn that fungal spores can’t germinate, and bacterial diseases can’t spread without a film of water. And ask any professional horticulturist and they’ll tell you that it’s easier to bring a wilted plant back from drought than it is a wilted one from soggy induced root rot. What is known as the temporary wilting point is just that; temporary, while root rot diseases are often fatal. Bust most amateur gardeners only know how to water, as though it’s a panacea for all that ails.
To this day, the majority of the problems I hear about as a horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are associated with folks running their sprinkler systems too often. Not a season goes by that I don’t see sprinklers running year-round, including during the rain.
I don’t even have a sprinklers system but if I did, it would be set on manual, not automatic. Most professionals agree that our landscapes need around one inch of water per week, minus rainfall. But I simplify it even more. My general rule for running sprinklers in East Texas is to only run them during the months of June, July, and August, with annuals, turfgrass, and vegetables needing irrigation once per week; azaleas, Japanese maples, and perennials needing supplemental watering once every two weeks; and most other shrubs and trees needing it only once per month during that time.
If you’d like to learn more about how to properly use water in your landscape, plan to attend this week’s Water Wise program presented by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Smith County Earth-Kind Environmental Education Committee. Ag Agent Clint Perkins will lecture on how soils and water interact, and I will talk about what, when, why, and where to water along with whether to save or sacrifice struggling plants from the summer drought. The educational session is Friday September 2 from 9-12 at the Tyler Rose Center. Admission is $20, payable at the door. For more information contact the county extension office at 903-590-2984.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is the author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens,” read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, and read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com). More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.