GARDEN VIEW: Drought — An ongoing challenge for our gardens

BY BARBARA STORZ

Tropical conditions have not been favorable for delivering measurable amounts of rain to South Texas gardens this summer.

The lack of moisture presents a real challenge for sustaining landscapes and gardens. To keep our gardens in good shape we need to employ several strategies.

One effective strategy that can be used is the installation of efficient drip irrigation. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses need to be used in flower beds, vegetable and herb gardens, and newly planted wildflower gardens. With drip irrigation 90 percent of water output is available for plant uptake compared to only 40 percent to 60 percent water utilization in sprinkler systems. Most vegetables require an inch of water per week so you may need to water daily, especially under windy conditions.

Another strategy against drought is to use is organic mulch, especially wood chips. Add 4 inches of wood mulch to flower beds to reduce stress at the root zone and conserve soil moisture. Hay is a better mulch on vegetables.

Wind breaks can be a very effective strategy to keep plant leaves from drying, especially on tender vegetable and herb plants. Commercial farmers plant wind breaks (such as sorghum) in rows of cucumber and melon vines to keep fruit and leaves safe from the wind. A mass planting of zinnia flowers or basil can provide a fast wind break in a vegetable garden.

Utilizing native and ornamental grasses in flower beds can be an effective way to block the wind for small bedding plants. Remember to leave enough room for the grasses to develop their clumps.

Keep weeds to a minimum. If a plant is struggling to get enough moisture to stand up to the drought and winds, it sure does not need to compete with weeds for its moisture. Be sure to keep beds free of weeds. For additional protection, this may be a good time to invest in weed cloth. Use the weed barrier on top of the drip system and underneath the mulch.

Be careful about applying fertilizer under hot, dry conditions. Vegetables require regular fertilizer applications, with low levels of nitrogen, and drip irrigation systems have applicators that will accommodate liquid fertilizers. Late September/early October is a good time to apply compost to your turf grass and help your lawn get through the cooler months. This is also a good time to fertilize fruit trees and landscape plants. Applications should be made in late evening.

For more Texas gardening information, go to the website: aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu. You can also talk to a Master Gardener and pick up a copy of the vegetable planting guide for South Texas at the Growing Growers Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to Noon today in Firemen’s Park on the corner of 1st Street and Business 83 in McAllen.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can hear her garden show at 9 a.m. Saturdays on 710 KURV Radio, or contact her by e-mail at bstorz@rcommunications.com.