Zone your planting areas based on water requirements
Proper planning can help beds during dry times


April 16, 2009



By Karen Pye,
Victoria County Master Gardener



Edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTO BY KAREN PYE/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Plants in containers require special attention, because both soil and water availability is limited. These plants require a regular watering pattern and have to be watered more often than plants growing in the ground.
Drought management for plants. Sounds a little daunting doesn't it? But when you give it some thought, all it really takes is some planning, properly prepared beds, a little plant knowledge and stick-to-itiveness.

A drought is typically characterized as having significantly less than the average rainfall for the year. And one may persist for about a year, depending on the region you live in.

According to the Palmer Drought Severity Index, Victoria is experiencing an extreme drought. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for Victoria County shows the drought tendency during the February - May 2009 period to persist.

Like a recession, nobody can factually say when a drought begins or when it will end. As you well know, we have been dry since last summer. However, as I sit here writing this article, Victoria is experiencing rain for the third time in two weeks.

Planning

Dealing effectively with drought in South Texas requires not only an understanding of the environment in which we live. It also requires planning to survive the drought. Again, the important thing to remember is to plan your landscape as if a drought is eminent.

Types of irrigation systems

Once you have determined where to establish your beds, consider irrigation requirements. What type of system will work best: automatic, in-ground or hand watering? Many different varieties are available. Choose the one that works best for your landscape and your time. Proper maintenance is key to sustaining a healthy lawn and plants. Proper irrigation also plays a key role.

Maintenance practices

Maintenance practices, such as mulching, mowing and fertilizing greatly impact the water efficiency of any landscape, as well as the landscape's ability to survive a drought. Homeowners should maintain a deep infrequent irrigation schedule. This approach is recommended through out the year regardless of the rainy periods.

This approach to lawn watering is better for the overall health of the lawn. It reduces incidence of some diseases and conserves water. If the soil is thoroughly wet to a depth of 6 inches with each watering cycle, the lawn should be able to go a week between irrigation cycles.

If necessary, use a hand-held hose to water those areas that show drought stress symptoms before the next allotted watering. Make sure when doing so that you take the time to thoroughly wet the soil to the appropriate depth.

Preparation

Research has shown that un-mulched soil may lose twice as much water to evaporation as mulched soil. Use a mulch whenever possible. A good mulch preserves soil moisture, prevents soil compaction, keeps soil temperatures more moderate and reduces weed populations.

The Gardeners' Dirt article written by Alton and Sara Meyer on Feb. 26, introduced expanded shale, a new product for use in beds to help retain soil moisture. This product has been tested and shown to "open up and aerate clay soils faster than any other product tested." What a great way to conserve our precious resource - water.

The
entire article can be found at www.vcmga.org - click on Gardeners' Dirt and follow the prompts.

Plants

Now, with the lack of rain over these past several months, if this current drought has made your yard look like a desert, then maybe it's time to take another look at the plants in the yard. It doesn't matter so much what type of plant you have. What matters is where you place it. The secret is to zone your planting areas.

In Doug Welsh's book "Texas Garden Almanac," Welsh describes three different plant zones - regular, occasional and natural rainfall zones.

"The challenge is to categorize the plants based on expected water requirements," he wrote. This makes perfect sense; you don't overwater one plant to save another. And you don't spend all your time watering.

Consider planting those plants which require occasional watering or natural rainfall in those beds abutting the foundation of your home. Too much water in these beds can cause foundation shifting, resulting in cracked interior and exterior walls.

Another thing to remember, plants in containers require special attention. Since both soil and water availability is limited, these plants have to be watered more often than plants growing in the ground. If you enhance your beds with container plants, place the containers in those zoned beds which require regular watering.

Granted, in periods of extended drought like we are experiencing, the plants will not look as lush as during normal rainfall periods, and production of flowers and fruit will be diminished. However, with liberal use of mulch, and infrequent but deep irrigation, homeowners should be able to create and sustain quality landscapes selecting the right plants.

Texas Superstar plants are ideal as these plants are hardy, tolerate the hot dry summers characteristic of this part of the state, they are disease and insect tolerant and include many beautiful and colorful selections. More than 40 different plants are designated as Texas Superstar, and these plants are tagged for easy recognition in retail outlets.

This is an ideal time to try out some of these drought-tolerant plants and increase their percentages in landscapes. Most plants should be hand-watered during establishment. Hopefully, by the end of the allowed establishment period, the rainy season should be in full swing, and new plantings can be fully established naturally, before our next dry season.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.
PLANT ZONES

Plants are categorized based on expected water requirements.

Regular Watering - Once a week or more: lawns, annuals

Occasional Watering - Once a month or so in the absence of rain: perennial flowers, azalea, camellia and gardenia

Natural Rainfall - Generally survive with only natural rainfall: all trees and drought-resistant woody shrubs.