Calvin R. Finch, Ph.D.
Drought restrictions do not
have to be a disaster for your plants. The rules for Stage I
and Stage II are liberal enough that a disciplined homeowner
and gardener can keep everything alive and even attractive.
In Stage I, you can use your
sprinklers one day per week from midnight until 10 a.m. and
then again between 8 p.m. and midnight. The ET project here
in San Antonio proved that even St. Augustine grass looks good
if watered once per week with about three-fourths of an inch
of water. It will survive with water every two weeks.
Hand watering and drip irrigation
are allowed every day so you can give bedding plants and vegetable
gardens and containers enough water to survive. Drip irrigation
is very efficient. It places a small amount of water right at
the roots of the plants. Almost 95 percent of the water reaches
the plant while some sprinklers are only 40 percent efficient.
If you have never considered drip irrigation before, check out
the kits available at nurseries and home improvement centers.
They are inexpensive and easy to assemble.
If you use soaker hoses for
irrigation make sure you only turn the spigot a quarter of a
turn. Soaker hoses are pressure sensitive, if you turn the pressure
way up, the water runs through them like an open hose.
Of course, mulch is a key part
of any drought-survival plan. Mulch everything you can. Three
to four inches over the roots of newly planted trees and shrubs
keeps the soil cool, reduces weeds, keeps the string mower away
from the trunk and saves water. Use 1-2 inches in the vegetable
garden and in flowerbeds. Fine mulches like leaves, cocoa shells,
or compost can even be used in containers.
San Antonio residents can obtain
free mulch at the brush site at 1800 Bitters, near Blossom Athletic
Park. They are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., 7 days a week. The
phone number is (210) 522-8831. Bring your shovel and containers
or a pickup. It is high-quality material. You can also purchase
mulch from Fertile Garden Supply, New Earth Technology, Gardenville
and most nurseries.
It is not the best time to
plant a massive new landscape during drought restrictions, but
sometimes it is necessary. The restrictions allow a 3-week variance
to water new landscapes. Just fax (210) 704-7569 or mail (New
landscapes, SAWS, Attn: Dana Nichols, Box 2449, San Antonio,
TX 78298-2449) a note giving the address, the first day of watering
and a one sentence description of the plants.
If you have a choice when you
put your landscapes in, you may want to do the hardscape, irrigation
system, mulch and key plants now and wait awhile until the drought
breaks on the rest of the plants. Remember that you can receive
the SAWS Water Saver Rebate even before the plants are in place.
Soil covered with mulch qualifies for a dime per square foot,
just as your groundcovers or well-adapted shrubs do. Decomposed
granite, brick without mortar and flagstone are almost as good
as organic mulch over tree roots because they allow water to
penetrate and gases to escape the soil. Use such permeable materials
for your patios and paths and they count towards the rebate.
If you want more information on SAWS rebates, free water audits,
water use restrictions call us at (210) 704-7354. You may also
call the Extension Service at (210) 467-6575 to chat with a
master gardener about specific situations in your landscape.