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DROUGHT
RESISTANT
GARDENING

for the 21st Century
in South/Central Texas


BY RANDY RODGERS


Just one year ago a local newspaper headline decried “Enough is Enough: Texas has seen 40 Days of Rain,” and now the drought which began last fall has everyone worrying about plunging aquifer levels and missed opportunities for life-giving rain to sustain home and commercial landscapes as well as public parks and green spaces.

Over the last decade, water authorities have rushed to educate our community about the need to conserve water without demanding that waterneedy gardens be turned into Arizona-esque concrete and gravel landscapes.

With almost 40 percent of South/Central Texas summer water use being attributed to outdoor landscapes, “xeriscape” became the 1980s password to encourage homeowners to select plants which would utilize less water and, at the same time, allow for the use of drip irrigation (as opposed to spray systems) to make the best use of water for landscapes.

Unfortunately, in the rush to include many plant selections already in use in South Texas, the list of approved plant selections became so broad that many included plants that would not be able to survive without regular and copious amounts of moisture.

Now, we as a community face the challenge of protecting the valuable life-giving water sources that mean so much to our future (as well as protecting our landscape investments) and creating desirable exterior environments for the outdoor lifestyle we have grown to love so much.

First and foremost, the type of irrigation being utilized will play an important role in the years to come for the health and well-being of your landscape and pocketbook. While drip irrigation systems do provide a more efficient system, they frequently require greater costs for installation as well as a more diligent maintenance program. Local irrigation contractor Paul Newsome of Newsome Sprinkler Systems reports that the cost of a drip system over a traditional system can vary from 15 to 25 percent in additional installation costs. Additional maintenance requirements are caused by water quality that can clog orifices plus damages that can occur during routine garden maintenance.

Water storage from roof collection is another alternative that can also require up-front costs that can take years to recover or justify.

Every landscape is different because of soil types, amount of shade or sun, and exposure to other elements. Consistent soil moisture can also be beneficial for the maintenance of foundations and flatwork, making the investment in drip irrigation more justifiable.

Many South and Central Texas landscape architects and designers are utilizing interesting hardscape elements to reduce the need for irrigation on local landscapes. Paving, colorful gravel in varying sizes and various types of mulches are providing garden elements that are attractive, useable and lower in water use.

In the late 1980s Sally Wasowski introduced her book, Native Texas Plants, Landscaping Region by Region, and began a revolution of planting pallets. That book offers gardeners guidelines for selecting trees, plants and grasses for local drought-tolerant, lowwater- use landscapes.

Establishing all trees and plants requires diligence with watering since all are field-collected or container grown.

Some favorite drought-tolerant tree selections besides the obvious native trees we all enjoy are chitalpa, desert willow, Arizona cypress, Texas pistache and vitex. A broader selection of non-native shrubbery and groundcovers has been imported over the years to our local environment including aspidistra (great for difficult lowwater- use shade gardens), many types of colorful hardy sages, rosemary, thyme and cotoneasters. Junipers with varying heights, colors and growth habits have seen resurgence in use while providing drought-tolerant evergreen foundations. Broad selections of agave and yucca have added spice to local gardens.

As you plan for the future of your landscape, be water-wise, consult local landscape architects and designers about potential changes that will contribute to lower water use (and lower water bills), and always strive to create an outdoor environment that you can enjoy long term – come flood or drought – with your family.