Sure the drought was bad, and caught many of us on our heels, but that doesn’t mean you should stop gardening or landscaping completely. Yet, that’s sort of the sentiment I’m reading in many of the emails I get via my radio show.
In most cases, any landscape plant or shrub seemingly lost from this past drought was doomed for a very compelling reason – It didn’t get enough water. Yeah, I know, that sounds so simple, but it’s the truth. Look around and think about it. If there was any irrigation provided to almost any landscape plant, they made it fine though this past summer. And even if we go through another summer this past one (and that is predicted to be so) that shouldn’t stop you from planting new landscape plants. As long as you are water-wise, you can still landscape/garden during a drought.
If you are in the camp right now that thinks you can’t plant anything because we had our first round of “freezing temperatures”, you would be completely wrong. Ironically, it is a perfect time to plant trees and shrubs, prior to the next round of cold weather. In the Houston/Tomball area it can be 35 degrees, and it’s still fair game to plant many evergreen shrubs and trees. The simple answer as to why, is that despite the cooler temperatures in the air, our ground never gets cold enough to prohibit roots from growing and establishing.
But back to the point at hand: Don’t let this past year’s drought stop you from landscape work! Here’s my interpretation of things, courtesy of those messages to my radio show: I detect that many people are worried about the cost of the water, feeling that they are irrigating their lawns and landscapes way more than normal. I get that and I understand that nobody wants to pay a small fortune in their water bills each month.
Realistically, while some people are paying way more than they were used to, it’s probably because they over-using or misusing their irrigation systems. If that’s what is holding you back, let me help you with the top 10 things to think about when it comes to irrigation in the landscape, that will make you water-wise and save you money, and consequently saving you from heartache – horticulturally-speaking.
1. As noted, if you think you’re paying too much on water bills, and if you have an in-ground irrigation system, then take that money one time and get an irrigation evaluation. A good landscape/irrigation smart company can adjust and fix any issues that are wasting water. Money saved instantly!
2. Plant drought resistant plants. Don’t wait until a drought to plant such plants. If you get them planted before the harsher weather, they will have established a root system and with minimal moisture can survive most any weather extremity. Here’s a link to a list of heat-loving, drought-tolerant we’ve talked about on my show from just a couple of months ago.
3. Consider Xeriscape-adaptable plants for the future. It’s pronounced Zeer-uh-scape. Once they are established, the idea behind Xeriscaping plants is how they require less water and ultimately low-maintenance. Xeriscape is no longer just cactus and rocks, as Texas A&M has many publications listing everything from small trees to perennials that fall into this category.
4. Group plants, when landscaping, according to their water needs. Simply put, if you’ve got a hibiscus and holly in the same bed, that’s not smart.
5. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch! Never has the chapter in my very first book ever been so applicable – You Can Never Have Enough Mulch! That doesn’t just mean apply more inches; it also means do it more often.
6. Don’t water the gutters! Yes, this applies back to having the evaluation done by an expert, but it also means you can make simple adjustments yourself to avoid having the irrigation water the paved areas more than acceptable.
7. Water your lawn only when it needs it. What’s so infuriating to someone like me is seeing a neighbor who is still allowing their irrigation system to run on a daily basis. Yes, even today, several months after the harsh part of the drought and even after several soaking rains, his system is going off every morning. A good way to see 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 telling you it’s ready for watering.
8. Deep soak! When watering a lawn and landscape, make sure it runs long enough for the moisture to soak down to the roots where it will do the most good. A light sprinkling can evaporate quickly and tends to encourage shallow root growth.
9. Water/Irrigate early! Obviously, you should avoid watering on windy days, but if you water in the early hours of the morning – 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. – it’s statistically the least windy part of every day, and that means better coverage, and infinitely less evaporation.
10. Add organic matter whenever and wherever possible. The more organically-rich the soil becomes, be it for the lawn or the beds, the less and less water it will require. This concept goes way beyond just adding mulch. I’m talking about adding things like compost and humates whenever and wherever possible. Adding organic foods whenever and wherever possible is also a small way to enrich the soils organically. On lawns, humates/humus makes your lawn more drought-tolerant. In landscapes beds, additions of compost and other organic matter further enriches the soil, which simply stated makes your landscape more drought tolerant as well.