Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Water Quality Makes a Difference

By Plantsy Drew

Did you notice how the grass greened up after the rain? Even after watering restrictions, which included the city of Austin limiting landscape irrigation to 1 day a week? Does that tell you anything? Using all that treated water in your landscapes was not necessary. Most of our plants are resilient to environmental stressors. Think about it, the plants are also somewhat resilient to all that treated water with its salts, chlorine and chlorine by-products. Lawns that had gone dormant and turned brown immediately turned green, practically the day after the rains began. This is due to two factors.

The first of which is natural rainwater. Rain is a slight bit acidic, it has a slight bit lower ph than our treated water and local water after it has sat in the lake or from our wells. Our lake and well water is higher in ph due to the limestone container. In addition, the ground around central Texas is more alkaline (higher ph) so a slight elevation of acidity in the form of rainwater is excellent nourishment to our landscapes. As a result of a wonderful rain, our plants returned to a vibrant healthy green glow.

Secondly, with the rain came reduced temperatures, day and night time. The lower night-time temperature really makes a difference. Most of our natives are thoroughly adapted to the climate, no matter what. Some natives are happier with a lower night-time temperature. Most of the non-native plants we use greatly appreciate a lower night-time temperature. With the prolonged heat this summer, everything was warmed up: soil, roads, buildings and plants. If the temperature does not drop a reasonable amount at night, then the stress in greatly increased on the plant’s living system. Think about it, weren’t you stressed, angry, more tired than usual because of the extended hot temperatures this summer? (oh, was that just me?) Weren’t you confounded when you walked outside at 10pm expecting to enjoy night air, or take that evening stroll but it was still 95 degrees? It makes a huge difference, physiologically and psychologically.

Although all the rain has improved the appearance of our surroundings, it has not significantly raised our lake levels which provide our drinking water. Therefore, water restrictions are still in effect. But it is my advice, that you not worry about watering at all. Save the money and energy needed to treat water. With the lower temperatures there is far less evaporation from the ground and plants and therefore more water remaining available in the landscape.

Enjoy the weather!

© 2009 Ginger Hudson

Upcoming Landscape Classes

There are classes in the Austin area to help you understand how to plan a successful garden at your home. Here are a few I am involved with:

Garden Design at the Art School at Laguna Gloria
October 26-November 9, one night per week

GoNativeU program at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, through UT Informal Classes
Planning your Native Plant Garden Novermber 7, 10am
Native Plants, November 7, 14
Native Plant Garden Maintenance November 21

All of these classes will also be offered in the Spring of 2010

Reliving Rain, what is this stuff in my rain barrels?
(originally written on September 12th after first rain of the season)
By Plantsy Drew

While working inside, I could hear a tick, tick, tick like a small smack. I looked all through the house thinking squirrel, bird in the attic, something broken. Finally I looked outside–after taking off the insulating layers of curtain, blinds and plasticboard installed to keep the heat out–I viewed the glory that was rain! Water falling from the sky, life giving, heat calming, seed sprouting natural water!

Oh thank the heavens for the relieving rain! Such a glorious end to a brutally hot, dry summer. I hope everyone was dancing and oogling the wet stuff falling from the sky as I was. Quickly I lined up all my spare 5-gallon buckets along the roof line, flip flop feet splashing in the puddles, and neighbor kids jumping up and down in the mud. And oh, what a relief with the toned down light, a few days of cloud cover to break the eye strain from the glaring yellow orb of life. The long sustained turmoil of the atmosphere was such a complete change from the sky we had been living with for the past four months–and really for the past year!

Why was there flooding? Will there be more? If there is more, how can we best plan for it and use the rain to benefit ourselves and our surroundings? Now that the environment has changed, what to do?

The ground has been so dry for so long, it had really hardened. Not quite but almost rock solid. So, when the rain falls, as it has a tendency to do here, all at once, the water just runs off the ground to the low creeks and washes. Then these gullies fill up to capacity rushing to the next low spot, the nearby river. If a road happens to be in the way, it gets a wash out. Let the ground soak in the moisture and after this first rain, get ready to plant!

There is so much we can do in the garden now, and the rain reminds us to plan for future downpours. It is time to disperse wildflower seeds, plant winter gardens, most important of all-install a rain barrel!

Wildflower seeds to sow now are spring and summer bloomers, especially bluebonnets-get them in by September if possible, October if you forget. All the other standards too, Indian blanket, Mexican hat, coreopsis, skeleton leaf golden eye, showy primrose, get a mix, get them all!

Get ready to plant hardy perennials-yellow bells, lantana, salvia greggii, trees especially. Any tree planting you want to do, get it done by February!

And lastly, install a rain barrel. The city of Austin offers rebates for small barrels, over 75 gallons, and large rebates for rainwater harvesting systems, 500 gallons or more. Go to their website to check out details

Enjoy the coolness. Your plants will. You are going to notice a big change. Some plants that had started to fade to yellow will re-green (rosemary, bamboo, some trees) And everything is going to bust out blooming. Even plants that normally bloom in summer have been in a holding/dormant pattern due to the continued heat and lack of moisture. It will be a pleasant few days.