Hill Country Master Gardeners Comment on Coping with Drought
The year 2011 was the single worst year of drought in Texas history and a heavy-handed reminder that Mother Nature is the one in charge. Here it is 2014 and still we are in a drought - ranked severe!
We should all be reminded that water is one of our most precious gifts. And, when there is no water, gardens and gardeners skills, are tested.
My standard for plants this summer is — if it's not dead yet, then it's a success. Thank goodness for drip irrigation, which saved the new backyard plantings.
There are some plants that have done really well, despite the heat/drought. These include Esperanza (Tecoma stans), Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) Yucca (Yuccaspp.),Chile Pequin (Capsicum annuum) and Catmint (Nepeta faassenii). In fact, the last two bloomed all summer without any regular irrigation except an occasional bucket of water.
The upside of the weather conditions has been few weeds, no mold or mildew, no snails, few insect pests and, best of all, no mowing. The losers this year are the vegetables that were really sad, and the Bermuda grass, which I don't much care for anyway, went dormant — except in the flower beds. If we have a drought next year, I will probably paint the lawn green, just to avoid having a tan yard for months at a time.
What will I do differently next year? I will add lots more mulch earlier in the year and maybe extend the drip irrigation to more plants. I am really worried about the drought-weakened mature trees in our neighborhood. When the day finally comes that we have ground-saturating rain and high winds, there is sure to be lots of damage.
I will NOT plant a fall garden because of the water shortage even though my small "Veggie Garden for Two" did very well this summer with water from a soaker hose only one to two hours twice a week.
I have stopped watering annuals such as Lion's Tail (Leonotis leonurus) and Passion Vines (Passiflora spp.), but to hasten their death I am going to cut them off at the ground so they will stop taking up water.
While Salvia Indigo Spires and Mexican Bush Sage were perennial favorites, the harsh winter and drought have killed those on the north side of my home. Only the protected ones in the back yard survived.
My best performers with minimal water were Esperanza (both yellow and orange), Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) and Mexican Oregano (Poliomintha longiflora). My best container plant is the Firecracker Plant ( Russelia equisetiformis). Luckily Kerrville still allows drip irrigation at certain times. So in my flower beds where I had sprayers, on the drip system,I switched them out to drippers to comply with current water restrictions.
Crunchy is the appropriate adjective for my so-called landscape. I won't need to worry about eliminating turf grass 'cause it's pretty well burned to a crisp. Plants in distress include an althea (Hibiscus syriacus), most of my colorful annuals and the 12-foot hedge of red-tipped photinia that separates our B&B cottages from the parking area.
Of course I know the photinia is a poor choice, but it was grand-fathered in when we bought the place and, up to now, we hadn't had the time/energy/resources to replace it. Looks like the drought may render that point moot. I am researching alternative plants that will be quick growers, grow to a minimum of eight feet tall, be good screen plants. In addition, I prefer native/adapted plants that are a suitable shelter and food source for our our colony of birds.
On a happier note, lantana (Lantana spp.) continues to bloom and prosper, as does Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Turk's cap (Malvaviscus arboreus), Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) and Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora). All the roses are "EarthKind" and are holding their own.
One pecan tree is looking bad, but that's probably the result of root damage from city side walk installation five years ago and new sewer line installation 3 years ago; a certified arborist is coming to take a look and advise.
In meantime, mulching, watering ONLY on designated day and praying for local rain.
For me, it is all about the flowers; there is no lawn. I'm not a purist so I have native plants, drought-tolerant and adaptive plants along with the usual hybrids often found in a perennial border. Mixed in with the tall bearded iris, daylilies, crinums, and hemerocalis are the native/adapted Pink skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens), Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) , Lantana (Lantana spp. "New Gold"), Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa), Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), and Gregg's mist flower (Eupatorium coelestinum) to name a few. Shrubs include heirloom roses, Duranta (Duranta erecta), Firebush (Hamelia patens), and Mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora). All these — natives and hybrids — are at least holding their own.
Now that we are so severely restricted to drip watering and hand watering, I have begun to choose which plants will be watered and which will not — this is a lot like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. The annuals like cosmos and zinnias were pulled out early on. The few Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) were the first to succumb to the drought so I will go back to the native Ox-eye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum). The drought-tolerant salvias 'Indigo Spires', 'Mai Nacht', and Salvia guarantica are struggling, but unchecked spider mites are partly responsible, but then again nothing looks great. I will continue to nurse along natives and hybrid favorites as long as allowed.
Nothing in the herb garden is left except the culinary sage, lemon grass, winter savory, and one little clump of thyme. The potted plants have to survive on water captured from the shower and the kitchen sink. Gardening has not been particularly easy this year, but I am learning a lot about what works and what doesn't.
Ugh! Is anything doing well this summer? Well yes. In my garden it has been a time for the desert plants to shine. No surprise there, but it certainly has made me appreciate them and to once again marvel at Mother Nature.
My Palo Verde, "Museum", took a hard hit after the cold winter we had, but this summer has rejuvenated it completely. We pruned back all the dead wood in very early spring, and it has rewarded us by producing masses of leaves and beautiful flowers. The same goes for the Desert Willow, "Bubba". Although the hungry deer have nibbled the lower leaves for the first time ever, the top two-thirds of the tree have been non-stop blooms from early spring on. An added bonus is that the hummingbirds love both of these tree flowers.
I've also been pleased with the amount and vibrant color of the fruit on the Prickly Pear Cactus. I don't think I've ever had so many lovely purple "pears". I will continue to make sure that I have these and other low-water, heat-loving plants in my garden...just in case.
Ornamentals which have survived with little water:
Plumbago, Mexican Bush Sage, Orange Cosmos, Rock Rose Pavonia, Iris, Mexican oregano, Russian Sage, Lavender, Sedums, Scabiosa "Butterfly Blue," Clematis "Polish Spirit".
Rosemary and Greek Oregano
Everything else that is surviving has gotten more irrigation when permitted.
The water info is based on systems I used until they were excluded by City of Kerrville restrictions.
Installed spring 2011 and dead:
Rudbeckia (automated irrigation)
Hanging basket of Torenia (hand water only)
Salvia greggii "San Antonio" (automated irrigation)
Petunias in hanging baskets (drip system)
Bearded iris (automated irrigation)
Impatiens (drip system)
LESSON LEARNED: Don't plant in a drought.
Suffering from drought:
Antique roses (eaten by porcupines)
Begonia (dug out of pot by raccoons)
Trailing Lantana (eaten by deer)
Zexmenia (eaten by deer)
LESSON LEARNED: Wildlife is starving
Established plants that are dead:
Butterfly Bush (soaker hose)
Day lilies (soaker hose)
Copper Canyon Daisy (automatic irrigation)
Esperanza, orange (automatic irrigation)
Texas Red Oak tree (drip irrigation)
Miles of burned English Ivy foliage (drip irrigation)
LESSON LEARNED: What killed them? Drought, temps over 100 or our 3-day freeze in February, or all?
Flourishing in the drought:
Yellow Esperanza, blooming (automated irrigation)
Salvia Greggii "Cherry Sage", blooming (automated)
Purple Fountain Grass, (automated irrigation)
Japanese Yew (automated irrigation)
Russian Sage, blooming, (automated irrigation)
Boxwoods (automated irrigation)
Plumbago, blooming (soaker hose)
Mountain Laurels (soaker or drip)
LESSON LEARNED: These plants are Texas tough!
See what Vickie learned when she researched water restriction plans around the Hill Country
We hope we all know that water conservation should be on all of our minds. From hearing the weather reports on the TV news and reading in the paper, the outlook for rain in the near future is dismal. Rain forecasts are now for November, MAYBE. The weather people say we are in a La Nina, which means a dry winter. Everyday one hears about wells going dry because of the lowering aquifers. And people are getting angry at their neighbors if they have green grass. Just read the editorials. We all know that in normal years, we use 70% of our water outdoors, and 30% indoors. What can we do? I can only share what I am doing and it does take a little work and thought.
Outside, I only hand water what I want to keep alive. That is usually a tree, vine, or bush. And it is probably every two weeks. Inside, we do not take baths but have buckets in the tub to collect water while the water gets warm for our shower. We have a separate shower. I know that people who have a combination shower and tub, collect water while showering.
With those buckets of water we pour on plants around the house outside or flush the toilet. Remember, if it is yellow, let it mellow. If it is brown, flush it down.
I am using large pots in my double kitchen sink to wash and rinse the dishes. When through or full, I throw the water around the outside of the house. That is what our Grandmas used to do.
One can capture a nice amount of condensation from the air conditioner and use that on plants as well. Turn on and off the water taps when showering, brushing teeth, or hand washing. Only run your clothes washer with a full load.
What is so bad now compared to the last big drought of the 50s is that the population has doubled! I went to the Fredericksburg Native Plant seminar and the speakers advised not to plant grass seeds this winter but wait. That should tell you something.
I do not irrigate my lawn, either in the front of the back. In fact, I have not been doing that for many years. I have adopted the phrase that "brown is beautiful" when it comes to my lawns. In the front I have buffalo grass, which comes back at the slightest bit of rain. It gets mowed a couple of times a year, and that is mostly to get rid of the KR (King Ranch) that grows faster than the grass. In the back I have another native which acts much the same way.
During this drought what I have been most affected by is the time frames in which to do any watering. Since I don't irrigate using automated, drip, or soaker on a regular basis, I use the water for the birds and the wildlife and my container plants. I also use the outside water for my dogs since they seem to prefer it to the softened water inside.
I do have a lot of sage plants in my flower beds which seem to take care of themselves. And, there are several bushes
in the front and the back that also seem to take care of themselves. The plants that I am having the most difficulty with are
two large Rosemary bushes in the front. They are browning badly, and I am afraid they are dying. Lately, I have been giving
them some water about once a week, just enough to thoroughly wet the base and surrounding mulch. There is still some
green on them, but it may be too late to save them.
My container plants on the inside are thriving because they are getting the amount of outside water they always get, with most of them being watered from the bottom in their plant saucers.
This garden has Mexican petunia, Jerusalem Sage, Esperanza ,Xexmenia, Cenizo, Duranta, Russian Sage, and Mexican Bush Sage, along with some salvias and a Butterfly Bush.
I do not live inside the city limits so I am watering every day WITH A SOAKER HOSE for 20 minutes, and I consider they are getting very little water. But, they are doing pretty well in spite of the drought. They get the full west sun.