For The Answer
By Calvin Finch, PhD, SAWS Conservation Director, and Horticulturist
Week of March 8, 2004
The most appropriate landscape for the San Antonio area is a low-water-use landscape. The good news is that it is more beautiful than our St. Augustine-dominated high-water-use landscape. We receive about 32 inches of rain in the area on average, so there is a huge palette of plants that prosper in the climate. Among the plants that do well in full sun with minimum water are old-fashioned roses, crepe myrtles, iris, daylilies, Texas mountain laurel, paper whites, lantanas, salvias, esperanza, poinciana, wax myrtle, and pyracantha. In the shade consider dwarf Katy ruellia, Asiatic jasmine, standard pittosporum, nandinas, hollies, viburnum, tropical giant spider lily, society garlic, and pomegranate. For a longer list of plants obtain the Xeriscape Conversion Guide; it is $5 at your favorite nursery or you can send $7.50 (check or money order) to the Gardening Volunteers of South Texas, 6798 Culebra, San Antonio, TX 78238-4700 and they’ll mail you a copy.
In addition to using well-adapted plants, reducing the amount of water and maintenance required by your landscape relates to six other principles:
· Plan well to make your landscape a complement to your lifestyle.
· Add organic material to the soil to increase drainage and/or water-holding capacity.
· Mulch over the root system of shrubs, trees, and other plants. Mulch minimizes evaporation, keeps the soil cool, and reduces weeds.
· Reduce turf area to the amount needed for your kids or pets to play. Zoysia, buffalo, and Bermuda grass can go dormant if necessary in times of drought without dying. There should be at least 4 inches of soil under any lawngrass.
· Water efficiently. Only water when the plants need it and then water to fill the whole root zone. Use the personalized SIP watering recommendations (see SAWS website at www.saws.org) for directions on keeping the lawn green without wasting water. Use drip irrigation on gardens and for annual flowers.
· Maintain the landscape adequately. Restore mulch and, if you have an irrigation system, have it checked several times per year. A well-maintained yard adds value to the house and your neighborhood. The xeriscape landscape requires considerably less care than a high-water-use St. Augustine landscape but it still requires some care.
If you have at least five landscapes in your neighborhood with low-water-use landscapes and would like to compete for a $1000 prize for the neighborhood, participate in the Xeriscape Contest for 2004. Winning landscapes also receive a $200 gift certificate to their favorite nursery. For an application or more information contact the Gardening Volunteers of South Texas at 522-9220.
This Saturday from 9 a.m. until noon join me at the CPS Education Center at 509 S.W. Military Drive for the Spring Bloom Giveaway. Every year SAWS, the Edwards Aquifer Authority, and the Gardening Volunteers of South Texas join KSAT 12 weatherman (and gardener) Steve Brown in sponsoring the event. The events are a celebration of low-water-use gardening. I will be there to answer gardening questions along with the Gardening Volunteers of South Texas. We will also have handouts on low-water-use gardening. Every individual 15 years old or over that attends will receive one (1) free 3-inch blooming xeriscape plant. We usually have several kinds of lantana, ruellia, salvia, and society garlic—one thousand plants each day. Listen to Steve Brown’s broadcast the Friday evening before the event for more details.
For examples of the many choices of xeriscape landscapes, visit the new Water Saver Landscape Demonstration Site at the San Antonio Botanical Garden (555 Funston Place); it will be finished after March 15. There are examples of Spanish courtyard, wildscape, cottage garden, hill country, and manicured landscapes—all of which are low water use.