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Thursday - August 18, 2011

From: The Woodlands, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Xeriscapes, Planting, Seasonal Tasks, Watering, Herbs/Forbs, Trees
Title: Drought affecting native trees from The Woodlands
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I've been trying to grow native trees in my yard for the past 3 years and I'm starting to question whether the amount of time required to spend watering them during the long hot season in Texas is realistically maintainable/sustainable for a person with average time obligations. Every year, I start out doing well, successfully giving them a deep watering once or twice a week, and most survive. But into the 2nd or 3rd hot month, I start to slip up on my watering schedule and I inevitably lose a few more plants to the grim reaper. By the 4th or 5th hot month, I have become so weary of the chore of watering, especially in the scorching heat, that I get sloppy and let thirsty plants go for days longer than I should, and inevitably I lose even more, especially when they require nearly daily attention at that point, when the weather is at its hottest. And by the 6th hot month, most of what I planted in the spring has died. And, at that point, I almost don't care any more. My question is: is this normal for a Texas gardener? Do I really have to water plants in the heat on 30 to 40 occasions just to keep them alive?

ANSWER:

We have two questions from you and one from Spring, TX which is very near you, on basically the same subject. To begin with, would you please read the previous question from Spring, TX to kind of get a background of where we are coming from. We will answer this question first, as well as we are able and then see if there is any unique matter in the other. We will link back to this question, because many people ask us the same thing as many others, and when they search on Mr. Smarty Plants, they can read all 3 of the answers-your two and the one from Spring-to see if they are finding the answer to their questions.

To begin with, we totally sympathize with your problem. In Central Texas, Austin, it is frequently like this. This particular member of the Mr. Smarty Plants team grew up in West Texas during the Great Drought of 1948 to 1955, when there were very few trees at all and nothing could be watered because we had so little water that getting enough to drink out of the faucet was an achievement. Houston, at least up until now in our memory, and we have family living in The Woodlands, has always had good rains and plenty of water for irrigation of plants. This year you don't, and perhaps last year, we don't remember.

You asked if this was normal for a Texas gardener. Texas is a big state; normally, it rains a lot in south and east Texas, in Central Texas enough to get by with low-water use native plants and in West Texas, yes, this is normal. It sounds to us like you are beating your head against Nature, and Nature is winning. There are a lot of drought-tolerant plants that will grow in Texas. However, there is no such thing as drought-proof. We don't know what kinds of plants or trees you have in your garden now. If they are native to North America and even to South Texas, you can certainly expect problems unless and until the rains come back. If you like plants that require a lot of water and care, and don't have or want to give a lot of water and care, you will probably lose your plants. It's really as simple as that. You will have spent a great deal of time, back muscles, probably fertilizer, certainly water, and money for purchasing plants, including shipping costs, and water. If you are going to continue to do that and end up with dead plants, then you are definitely wasting scarce resources, especially your back.

In response to your question about do you really have to water plants every day-we have a small (6' x 12') concrete porch on our apartment, in sun a few hours in the late afternoon, and in the heat all the time. It is a container garden, with lots of native plants. Yes, we water them every day, early in the morning while it is cool and shady. They are hanging on, but we are spending 10 minutes and 4 gallons of water a day to have a really lovely SMALL Central Texas garden.

The point being, you may have to accept the inevitable, and stop trying to grow too much to care for and water. Scale down, do more xeriscaping. Try to keep mature, healthy trees and healthy perennials going, and quit planting little trees and more different plants. The biggest killer of woody plants, including trees and shrubs, is transplant shock. And transplant shock is the result of planting the wrong plant at the wrong time, in the wrong place.

We think next year will be better-we ALWAYS think next year will be better. While you are in your planning stage, which you can do in August, read our Step by Step Guide on How to Plant a Tree, and How-To Guide on Using Native Plants.

 

 

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