May 24 2008 Timely Tips




May 24, 2008

Most of Texas is suffering once again from a severe drought! While there is no way to make plants thrive under these harsh conditions, there are certain cultural practices (mulching, proper irrigation timing, wise mowing and fertilization practices, etc.) that can lessen the impact of the drought on the Texas landscape and garden.

Organic mulches not only conserve moisture, they also feed plants, earth worms, microbes, and other beneficial soil life by composting at the moist earth surface. Many species and tonnage of life occurs below the soil surface than above the soil surface. All soil life needs energy. They cannot collect energy directly as green plants do. The soil feeds on energy released from decaying mulch; this is their preferred food source.

The goal of an irrigation system is to give the plants a sufficient amount of water without waste. In addition, by zoning the irrigation system, higher water requirement plantings can be watered separately from lower water requirement areas.

Raising the mowing height on turfgrasses helps lawns survive drought conditions. For example, raise the mowing height on St. Augustine grass to 3 1/2 to 4 inches during drought. The typical mowing height is 2 to 2 1/2 inches. However, the taller height promotes a deeper, more water efficient root system. Taller grass acts like a living mulch, shading the ground, thus reducing moisture evaporation from the soil. Also, grass that is allowed to grow taller grows slower; therefore, needing less water and mowing.

Fertilize the lawn once in mid-April and again in early October to produce a beautiful turf without excess growth which demands frequent watering. Use a slow-release form of nitrogen in spring (i.e. 19-5-9) and a quick release form in fall (i.e. 18-6-12). Apply only one pound of actual nitrogen fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn at one time. By using this fertilizer schedule, a minimum amount of fertilizer is needed for most shrubs and trees in the lawn area.

David Rodriguez is the County Extension Agent-Horticulture with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Bexar County. For more information, call the Master Gardener “Hotline” (210) 467-6575 or visit our County Extension website at

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