Coping Skills for the Drought
With Texas currently enduring one of its worst droughts in recent history, the question comes: How do I as a gardener best cope with the drought, yet do all I can to protect my investment?
So far as I have seen, no city is expecting you actually to lose permanent landscape plants. All they’re asking is that we critique every drop of water we use, whether for watering our lawns or washing our cars. They’re not asking us to let our plants die.
Begin by establishing priorities in your plants. Which plants are the most difficult/most expensive/slowest to replace? It breaks my heart to see people watering zinnias while they’re letting their big Asian jasmine or Indian hawthorn beds dry up to dust. It takes $10 and 30 minutes to replace annual flowers. It takes cash, years and lots of hard work to re-establish groundcovers and shrubs. Even if you have to carry water to them after your bath, water the groundcover and shrubs. They’re worth the effort. Annual flowers and vegetables are a lot more expendable.
Landscapers use bags filled with water to supply water to shade trees. You can accomplish the same thing simply by punching small holes in the bottoms of milk cartons to allow water to dribble out slowly. However, then you’re left with a yard full of milk cartons. It’s probably easier just to pull a ring of soil up as a berm, then to fill the berm with water and let it soak deeply into the ground. Or, let the water hose dribble slowly for an hour in each of several locations. Once again, you can save almost any established shade tree with just a few well-timed soakings each summer.
Along that same line, hand-water new plants, even if you have to do so more than once per week. Your sprinkler system alone will not be enough to keep them going. Most water curtailments make provision for new plantings to help you protect your investments.
Get rid of the weeds. You don’t want them anyway. They’re competitive water hogs. Use herbicides and cultivation to eliminate them, then mulch your beds to keep them from coming back.
Wait to fertilize established landscape plants. Feeding promotes strong new growth at a time when plants really don’t need to be doing so. Sit tight until rainfall returns, or until early September, whichever comes first.
Use special tools. Water breakers attached to long-handled water wands are great for those times you have to do touch-up hand-watering of new plants between normal irrigation. Buy a metal breaker if you can find one. They hold up for decades. To slow the flow of water even more, buy a water bubbler. Again, it goes on the end of hose and it will be unbelievably effective.
Buy a hose-end sprinkler or two. Even if you have the world’s finest automatic sprinkler system, there are times you can touch up a dry area more affordably simply by running a lawn sprinkler there. It’s highly possible that the rest of your landscape won’t have to be watered that time. It does, however, hint that you might need to change or add heads to that station of your system for more uniform coverage. Note that hose-end sprinklers are subject to the same watering restrictions that automatic systems are.
This year, more than ever, make sure all of your automatic system’s heads are aligned and functioning properly. Be especially observant about new spring growth that might now be blocking pop-up heads or heads on risers. Limited pruning might be in order, or you may need to install couplers and some form of extenders to get the heads up and over the canopy.
It’s a slight inconvenience, but, if you’re running an automatic system, use the "Manual" mode. That way, you will determine when the system runs and for how long. It should only take one push of the "Start" button to set it in action. Water early in the morning. Water pressure is much better at that time, plus winds are generally still.
Or, best option of all: have one of the new "smart" controllers installed. It will monitor weather conditions, soil types, sun/shade, slopes, plants being grown, types of heads and all the other variables to determine if the system needs to run. They’re now being required by most cities for new installations, and many cities allow them to move past the restrictions of set watering days.
(In case you’re thinking you’ve seen this before, I posted this information on my Facebook page earlier this week. I felt its importance merited repeating for our larger e-gardens community.)