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Save lawns, landscape plants during drought

Saving valuable landscapes--even successfully adding some new plants--depends on the length of one's hose and depth of one's commitment, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service gardening expert.

SAVING LANDSCAPES--During a drought, the use of drip irrigation and mulch can help sustain landscapes. (Texas AgriLife Research photo by Kathleen Phillips.)

"It's the season. People are going to want to plant," said Jayla Fry, AgriLife Extension Master Gardener program assistant in College Station. "By all means, go for it.

"But at the same time you have to realize that during times of a major drought like this, you're going to have to add the water," she said. "So it's an expense that one has to weigh out when adding to the landscape."

Fry said existing plants--from flowers to shrubs to trees--also need special care during the drought to stay healthy and last until rain returns.

"A couple of things to consider in a drought are lawns and trees," Fry said. "With lawns of course, they need to be protected with supplemental irrigation. So about once a week you're going to want to add about an inch of water. Bermuda grass is a little more drought tolerant than St. Augustine, so it is more forgiving."

Trees are a higher investment for property owners and should be watered during a drought to keep them from dying.

"You're going to want to protect trees and how you do that is with your water hose," she said.

Fry suggested that a water hose be turned on until it produces a pencil-sized flow. Place the running hose at the drip-line, or the edge of its canopy, and move the water around the tree every 15 minutes until the ground is completely soaked.

"You need to do this every two weeks, even when the rains come again," she said. "The trees will need the extra water to recoup from this prolonged drought."

For flower beds, Fry said, the soil is an indicator of whether water is needed.

"If it is cool to the touch, then you're OK," she said. "But especially with the wind and the drought conditions, you're going to want to supplement with irrigation. Shrubs will need between the amount of water that you add to your lawn and the amount that you add to your trees."

Adding mulch, she noted, will maintain soil moisture and reduce soil temperatures, which helps plants survive a drought.

"And of course, by adding mulch you get the benefit of cutting down on weeds in your flower bed. So mulch can be a great help during drought periods," Fry noted.

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