Plant Answers  >  Drought Strategies

Drought Strategies
Calvin R. Finch, Ph.D.

Drought restrictions do not have to be a disaster for your plants. The rules for Stage I and Stage II are liberal enough that a disciplined homeowner and gardener can keep everything alive and even attractive.

In Stage I, you can use your sprinklers one day per week from midnight until 10 a.m. and then again between 8 p.m. and midnight. The ET project here in San Antonio proved that even St. Augustine grass looks good if watered once per week with about three-fourths of an inch of water. It will survive with water every two weeks.

Hand watering and drip irrigation are allowed every day so you can give bedding plants and vegetable gardens and containers enough water to survive. Drip irrigation is very efficient. It places a small amount of water right at the roots of the plants. Almost 95 percent of the water reaches the plant while some sprinklers are only 40 percent efficient. If you have never considered drip irrigation before, check out the kits available at nurseries and home improvement centers. They are inexpensive and easy to assemble.

If you use soaker hoses for irrigation make sure you only turn the spigot a quarter of a turn. Soaker hoses are pressure sensitive, if you turn the pressure way up, the water runs through them like an open hose.

Of course, mulch is a key part of any drought-survival plan. Mulch everything you can. Three to four inches over the roots of newly planted trees and shrubs keeps the soil cool, reduces weeds, keeps the string mower away from the trunk and saves water. Use 1-2 inches in the vegetable garden and in flowerbeds. Fine mulches like leaves, cocoa shells, or compost can even be used in containers.

San Antonio residents can obtain free mulch at the brush site at 1800 Bitters, near Blossom Athletic Park. They are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., 7 days a week. The phone number is (210) 522-8831. Bring your shovel and containers or a pickup. It is high-quality material. You can also purchase mulch from Fertile Garden Supply, New Earth Technology, Gardenville and most nurseries.

It is not the best time to plant a massive new landscape during drought restrictions, but sometimes it is necessary. The restrictions allow a 3-week variance to water new landscapes. Just fax (210) 704-7569 or mail (New landscapes, SAWS, Attn: Dana Nichols, Box 2449, San Antonio, TX 78298-2449) a note giving the address, the first day of watering and a one sentence description of the plants.

If you have a choice when you put your landscapes in, you may want to do the hardscape, irrigation system, mulch and key plants now and wait awhile until the drought breaks on the rest of the plants. Remember that you can receive the SAWS Water Saver Rebate even before the plants are in place. Soil covered with mulch qualifies for a dime per square foot, just as your groundcovers or well-adapted shrubs do. Decomposed granite, brick without mortar and flagstone are almost as good as organic mulch over tree roots because they allow water to penetrate and gases to escape the soil. Use such permeable materials for your patios and paths and they count towards the rebate. If you want more information on SAWS rebates, free water audits, water use restrictions call us at (210) 704-7354. You may also call the Extension Service at (210) 467-6575 to chat with a master gardener about specific situations in your landscape.


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