Ground rules and tools
  Retaining soil moisture during drought conditions is imperative to plant health

July 7, 2005
Victoria County
Master Gardener

Today's article marks the beginning of the third year publication of The Gardeners' Dirt. As editor-in-chief since its inception, I, perhaps as much as anyone, know the time, effort and dedication expended by Victoria County Master Gardener Association authors.

To date, there have been 104 articles - each one permanently archived on the master gardener Web site: (VCMGA). (Now you can also find all the articles at our other web site.)

More than 50 authors have either written on topics familiar to them or they have spent numerous hours researching material to compile an article, including photographs, for publication. All published materials are backed by sustainable, reliable research of the Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University system. In the event something is not stated as intended or is omitted, correcting statements are published.

The column is published for the gardening and reading enjoyment of you - our readers. Your interest is appreciated, as well as your input and feedback, your questions and comments. And as it enters into the third year, I thank you for the opportunity today to share a few things about the association's achievements involving the column.

VCMGA is part of the larger network of Texas Master Gardeners. Since its inception in 1998 and at varying membership levels, VCMGA has been awarded 18 statewide awards for educational projects, programs, individual achievements and overall association successes. As with most any project, there have been "ground rules" that include the 1's, 2's, and 3's of what to do and how to do it. Those 1's, 2's and 3's have evolved into statewide awards, the most recent of which are of significant magnitude for Victoria County master gardeners. (See the adjacent box for VCMGA's list of awards.) We like to think our work has merit and want our readers to know that what we are doing for the education and betterment of the community is being recognized within the state master gardener community.

Moving into this third year, there are some editorial 1's, 2's and 3's of note regarding the column. With this publication, you will notice a new header that includes the Texas Master Gardener logo. As the recipient of the first-place multimedia component in state competition, the column publishes material in conjunction with the mission of the Texas Master Gardener Association and now reflects that.

For those who read this column regularly, you know that the first article of each month is a "Ground Rules and Tools" publication that provides gardening tips for the succeeding four to five weeks. This monthly article will continue in the column, as it appears from feedback that it is useful and anticipated.

The community will also continue to be kept abreast of the latest in gardening techniques and research, as well as programs and projects offered to the public by the master gardeners. And speaking of opportunities for the public ... the master gardener fall training class will begin Aug. 11 with registration materials due July 29. Look for next week's article for more details or call the Victoria County Extension office at 361-575-4581. Space is limited in this increasingly more popular training program.

Enough on internal 1's, 2's and 3's. Let's look at the 1's, 2's and 3's in the outdoors during the hot month of July. Water issues are as vast as Texas and in the extreme heat watering techniques and application will help prevent the destruction of open rangeland, landscapes and gardens. By the time this article is published, July Fourth will have been celebrated with likely very dry conditions. Extreme caution should be used around dry foliage with the use of any ignitable products, including fireworks, tobacco smoking products, or even barbecue pits and grills. Grass fires can start with a simple flick or spark, and wreak havoc for landowners.

Watering efficiently will be discussed in an upcoming article, but it is worthwhile to make some notes on retaining soil moisture while conserving water. Recently set out plants, in particular, need a close eye because inadequate root systems and drought can be damaging. Mulch added to the bedding area will help retain moisture.

Plants that were injured by this past winter's cold and snow should not be allowed to suffer drought stress. Don't forget to water large-leafed plants like caladiums, hydrangeas, coleus and chrysanthemums. Hot, dry wind can soon deplete their soil moisture even in the shade.

Drought conditions can also reduce the quantity and quality of flower buds formed in late July and August for spring flowering foliage. Prevent drought stress on azaleas, camellias, peaches, pears, forsythias and similar plants. To keep hanging baskets looking attractive, water them daily in extreme heat and soak them in a tub of water every few days. Add water-soluble fertilizer to the water every three to four weeks.

Water lawns as needed, providing about an inch of water per week to a 5-6 inch depth in longer versus shorter watering sequences. Several 15-minute soaking sessions in one day are far more efficient than numerous sprinklings in one week. It is best to water in the wee hours of the morning than during the day or evening to reduce loss of moisture to evaporation, to prevent scorching of blades and leaves, and to reduce the incidents of diseases.

Further 1's, 2's and 3's to curb the loss of moisture are suggested in a recent mailer I received from Lowe's Garden Center. While in no way promoting one garden center over another, I share the material that provided valuable pointers for moisture retention in the summer heat. Containers made of plastics and synthetics were recommended because they retain water longer over clay pots, which dry out easily. Potting mix designed (and labeled) to hold water and release it to roots as needed was also suggested. A final suggestion for maintaining adequate soil moisture was through drip irrigation. This watering technique is also highly recommended by extension horticulturists at Texas A&M University and can be referenced at extension/homelandscape/ water/water.html.

It is often said the master gardeners know the best dirt. And it is hoped that the 1's, 2's and 3's shared with you will continue to be of benefit so that good gardening practices are put to use.

Who knows? It may also evolve into more first, second and third place state recognition for VCMGA.








Victoria master gardeners honored

July 7, 2005


The Victoria County Master Gardeners Association won two statewide awards in May at the Texas Master Gardener State Conference in Denton County.

VCMGA was honored as the third most outstanding association from all over Texas.

The association also was recognized for its web sites. The pages, which include the complete compilation of "The Gardeners' Dirt" column since July 2003, were selected first in the state in all multimedia categories and for all sizes of associations.

VCMGA first entered statewide master gardener competition in 1998 and has since received 18 awards for educational projects, programs, individual achievements and overall association successes.

Awards since 1998

1st place - 3

2nd place - 5

3rd place - 7

Honorable mention - 3