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
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) 522-8811.
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.
Calvin Finch, Ph.D., was the longtime horticulturist in San
Antonio with the Texas Extension Service and now is Conservation
Director with the San Antonio Water System.