Focus on drought tolerant plants for your spring garden

March 15, 2014

Sad to say, but simply driving over any bridge spanning Lake Granbury will remind you that we are experiencing devastating drought. Although there may be numerous reasons for low lake levels, there is no doubt drought is a key factor.

Seeing sandbars located where boats once cruised should be a wakeup call to all who maintain gardens and landscapes in North Central Texas. It is clearly time to focus on water-efficient plantings and practices. Low water demand landscapes, sometimes referred to as xeriscapes, will help to conserve precious water supplies.

Most folks shy away from xeriscapes because they envision cactus and rock. The truth is many types of plants are appropriate for water efficient gardens. The most important strategy you can adopt to successfully install a drought-tolerant garden is to identify the environmental conditions that exist on your site, such as temperature, wind, altitude and soil type, and then select plants that are well suited to those conditions. Your goal in a water-saving design is to match the moisture requirements of the plants to the amount of moisture that will be available, keeping irrigation to a minimum.

Keep in mind that any newly started plant will need regular watering in its first one-to-two years to become fully established. Afterwards, drought-tolerant species may be left to live on rain alone, or with minimal irrigation. They will typically survive, although given a bit more water, will likely flower more and grow larger. The downside to giving these plants more water is that they will learn to depend on excess moisture and later fail if you must cut back on irrigation due to cost, restrictions or shortages. Therefore, it is best to encourage drought tolerant species to be as tough as their botanic heritage says they can be!

Which plants work best in a xeriscape? Natives have an advantage of being adapted to the area soils, so they need less fertilizer to obtain the nutrients they need. Natives are usually more resistant to pests and diseases. And because they have adapted protective features, they usually withstand the weather extremes that can kill non-natives.

One of the characteristics shared by drought tolerant plants is gray, fuzzy or finely divided foliage rather than large leaves. Generally, the larger the leaf size, the more water the plant needs. Large leaves also up the chance of leaf scorch. Tiny hairs that reduce evaporation give foliage a gray, fuzzy cast. Another trait is a low-growing habit. Still another characteristic is the production of aromatic oils that prevent the plant from losing moisture. Herbs are great examples of aromatic (scented) plants.

Many non-natives, especially those that were introduced long ago, have adapted well to area conditions and may be used in xeriscapes. One example is crape myrtle. Regardless of the plant’s heritage, before planting consider its suitability to the site, whether or not it could become invasive and whether its water needs can be met.

Visit the Lake Granbury Master Garden Plant Sale on March 29 to learn more about plants that thrive in North Central Texas. Call 817-579-3280 for details.

For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit the website at hoodcountymastergardeners.org.

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Category: Horticulture Archived