As my old Latin teacher (Wanda Boswell) in high school used to say when warning students about a possible “pop” (unscheduled) quiz: “A word to the wise is sufficient”. Now that we are in yet another severe drought in some parts of Texas and folks are losing, and will continue losing plant materials, I am thinking that there a lot of people who fit into the “unwise” category, or as we say in Texas, they don’t know or are total DUMBASSES!

I have experienced this several times as a horticulturist in San Antonio. Once in 2006 when some supposedly - knowing individuals were in denial about the occurring drought in the ruse of saving water, I wrote a column entitled:

WE TOLD YOU SO * 3-YEARS AGO IN 2006!!” cataloged at:

Others chimed in:
Sunday, February 26, 2006
By David Rodriguez
Cataloged at:

AND to aggravate the problem, some people who want to “conserve our natural resources” and don’t water because of receiving several tenths-of-an-inch of rain. Dr. Larry Stein addresses this “problem” in his wonderful article entitled: “So What Constitutes An Effective Rain Event?

By Dr. Larry A. Stein
Professor and Extension Horticulturist
Cataloged at:

So with that history in mind, I will announce we are in a drought yet again and people are losing huge amounts of plant material that are otherwise considered drought tolerant such as hollies and even “native” plants. I hate to think that there a lot of people who fit my Latin teacher’s “unwise” category, I prefer they just don’t know what is going on with their plants.

The Horticulturist leading the charge to inform people there IS a SEVERE drought and how to save their plants is my long-time (over forty years!) friend and most knowledgeable colleague, Neil Sperry. Neil writes a FREE!, weekly newsletter which you can sign up for at: It is the BEST newsletter in the U.S. written by one of the BEST Horticulturists in the World!! He not only posts the ALERT but also the REMEDIES and WHAT WORKS and WHAT DOESN’T. He started early (July 7th until July 28th) in the season alerting folks what was happening and only get worse. He has given me permission to re-print his drought alert and how to avoid losing newly (within two years) planted plant materials. Past issues are available at:

Neil’s first installment about the drought was in his e-newsletter in the:
July 7th, 2022 Issue
  • Signs of moisture stress. Lower leaves yellowing, dropping. Foliage of hollies turning olive drab (since they don’t wilt). Leaves of Asian jasmine, St. Augustine folding downward. All are signs that you need to water very soon.
  • Water newly planted nursery stock by hand using a water breaker or water bubbler. Soak the plants deeply every two or three days. Sprinkler irrigation will not be sufficient, nor will drip irrigation.

Neil’s second installment about the drought was in his e-newsletter in the:
July 14th, 2022 Issue
  • All plants for signs of moisture stress. Water by hand if you must, but don’t lose plants just because you forgot to water them once. In answer to the question I’m being asked repeatedly, “No, it’s ultimately unlikely that you are over-watering your plants. Not in these temperatures.”

Neil’s third installment (and my personal favorite) about the drought was in his e-newsletter in the:
July 21st, 2022 Issue
Still a Critical Issue
I'm getting so many pleas from people whose relatively new shrubs are cratering, and almost all sound like they're not getting enough water. Let me explain how that happens and how to control it.

Still a Critical Issue
I addressed this earlier this year here, but many people must have missed it.

Water bubbler costs only a few dollars, allows rapid watering. Once you have one you’ll never be without one. Here it’s running at full volume, yet the water flow is little more than a bubbling brook.

New plants must be watered by hand for their first couple of years in their new planting sites. Sprinkler irrigation won’t cut it. Drip irrigation won’t do it. Those silly bags of water strapped around plants’ trunks are a joke.

You must soak them deeply, and you must do so frequently.

The easiest way to accomplish both tasks is to form a water-retaining berm around each plant by using the soil you have left over after you plant it. Think of it as a donut-shaped levee around every plant.

And then buy yourself a water bubbler and a water wand and water the plants by hand.

Boring? I suppose so.
Hot? Yes, it is.

But does it work? Yes, when nothing else does.

Dwarf yaupon holly was just planted from a 5-gallon pot. It will get 5 gallons of water every other day for the first couple of summers.

Give each plant as much water as the container size from which it was planted.

If it came out of a 5-gallon pot, give it 5 gallons of water every 2-3 days. If it came out of a 20-gallon pot, give it 20 gallons of water every 2-3 days.

Don’t be surprised if you have to water the plants twice to get that much water to soak into their soil. That’s OK. Trust me – it would be almost impossible to over-water plants at these temperatures.

Do that until temperatures start to fall in mid-September. If you get a 2-inch rain at your house, you can skip one day.

Folks, I realize most Texas cities are asking that we cut back on water consumption. However, do it somewhere else. Your shade trees aren’t going to die if you don’t water them for a couple of weeks. Established shrubs have a greater margin of error. But new plants have almost no leeway. Miss a day and your time, effort and investment may have been wasted.

This once lovely new dwarf Burford holly was lost because the person charged with watering it didn’t realize the signs of a drought-stressed plant.

Neil’s fourth installment about the drought was in his e-newsletter in the:
July 28th, 2022 Issue
Photo: It's heart-breaking to see established landscape plants dying because no one is watering them.
  • Choose water-conscious plants. That doesn’t necessarily translate into “native” plants. It’s best to ask your Texas Certified Nursery Professional for plants that are adapted to your locale.
  • Use gray water (from the clothes washer, for example) to irrigate landscape plants whenever possible. Rain barrels and cisterns can help by capturing rainfall, although it may take several/many vessels to provide a meaningful supply.
  • Prepare the planting soil carefully, especially for plants that will be comparatively small at maturity.
  • Create a water basin around each new plant. That will allow you to soak the plant’s soil by hand-watering slowly and deeply with a garden hose, since all of the plant’s roots will be in that original soil ball initially. Standard landscape irrigation alone will not be sufficient. This is the single most important piece of advice I can give any gardener with new plants in their landscape.
  • Mulch landscape beds with organic mulch (compost, bark, shredded tree leaves, etc.). Mulches reduce soil-to-air interfaces. They slow runoff, and they moderate rates at which soils heat up in summer. They also retard germination and growth of weeds.
  • Fertilize landscape plants during spring and fall of dry years, just to keep them healthy and reasonably vigorous. This can be done as you feed your lawn, or you can make separate applications to landscape beds. In periods of extreme drought and water curtailments, reduce recommended rates of application by half.
  • Trees compete with turfgrass and shrubs for available water whenever they share the same soil. If, however, you feel that you need to provide water to large trees, do so with a soaker hose circled around the trees’ drip lines (outer edges of canopies of leaves).
  • Established landscape shrubs and groundcover beds will dry out more quickly than large trees, and their cumulative value can be significant. However, just a few waterings per summer can save them.
  • Weeds are notorious wasters of water. Hoe them out, apply a suitable herbicide according to label directions, and mulch to discourage them.
Here’s hoping you have found this information useful. If so, feel free to print this page and save it. Share it with a friend. Send it to your HOA. All I ask is that credit be given to Neil Sperry’s e-gardens weekly newsletter. Sign up at


Texas is in the Worst Drought IN HISTORY!

Several of us have been warning folks about how to save their precious plant material—See the information in “Topics of the Month” in the adjoining section. Some of you decided to “WAIT FOR THE RAIN”—For those folks I have a message from the singer Tanya Tucker --

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