Drought Does Not Mean Death

Drought is a normal occurrence in South Texas. But you can help minimize plant damage and mortality by following a few simple rules.

In the three decades I’ve lived in South Texas, I’ve learned three things about drought: plants rebound, preventive care goes a long way, and it’s fruitless to worry constantly about drought.

From 2009-2015 we had six years of record drought followed by 2 ½ years of record rains, and you know what? Only six percent of South Texas trees died, mostly hackberry, and the fields and highways rebounded with so much grass the Texas Department of Transportation had to spend extra money to cut it.

All it takes is a little precipitation for plants to rebound. Still, we can help minimize plant damage and mortality by following a few simple rules.

Use native species.

It’s not their first rodeo — they know how to survive the dry weather. Texas native plants thrive with minimal care and welcome the wildlife to your yard.

Add compost to turf and beds.

Organic matter from the compost increases soil’s water-holding capacity and water infiltration.

Apply mulch to landscape beds.

Two inches of wood chips or pine bark mulch retain moisture for weeks at a time and reduces the required water for plants by half.

Water in concert with nature. Water during the spring and fall if normal rainfall fails to materialize. Native trees and Bermuda grass do not expect to be watered in August, nor should you be expected to do it.

And here’s a typical irrigation schedule for a landscape in San Antonio in August.

  • Seasonal annuals: three times a week by hand.
  • Lawn: once a week, 20-minute run time by spray in the sun, 14 minutes by spray in the shade.
  • Woody perennials: once a week, 12 minutes by spray and 50 minutes by drip (.64 inch/hour precipitation rate)
  • Trees: once a month, 75 minutes by drip (.64 inch/hour precipitation rate)

Of course, if it rains significantly at any time during the week, then you don’t need to water at all. Drought is a normal occurrence in South Texas so relax, drink an ice tea and watch the Astros.

Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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