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While this may lift our spirits, we are also hit by a wall of heat when we step outdoors. Throughout summer, we are hot and dry, and when we do get rain, it’s usually a flood of water soon come and gone.
What’s a gardener in the cental south to do? Here are ten tips to help you garden in what I maintain is a hostile climate.
1. Consider your area. While I share some of Texas’ climate woes, mine are also unique to my area. Oklahoma receives more rain in the spring and fall, and although we have drought, it usually isn’t as extensive. Texas is a large state, and Austin’s climate is different from Houston’s which is also very different from that of Dallas. In Oklahoma, we find that Tulsa and Muskogee are more like southern Missouri, while Woodward, out west is dusty and windblown. A plant that blooms in my garden may not perform in San Antonio or Altus. So, plan before you plant. Consult your local extension service and ask for help.
2. Plant a windbreak or build a fence. “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plains” is very breezy. Look at farmers’ fields, and you’ll see they plant windbreaks to protect their crops. The same holds true for gardens. Plant trees and large shrubs and give your garden a break.
3. Water, but not too much. Unless you plan to grow only cacti and succulents, you will need some sort of watering system. Soaker hoses with y-connectors work just fine. They are also mobile and easy to install. However, if you’re planning to stay in your home for several years, invest in a watering system, and use a reputable company. You don’t want someone digging trenches all over your yard who isn’t experienced.
You can have the garden of your dreams, but be reasonable. I only use sprinklers on the small, shaded lawn in front of my house. Ninety percent of my garden is watered with drip line. I try to only water three times a week even in the most severe drought, and I water deeply to encourage deep roots.
4. Possibly water at night. Use a timer to water at night when temperatures are cooler, and plants are in recovery mode. However, don’t depend solely upon the timer. Dig into the soil at least eight inches to see if it is moist. You can also overwater, and this is a good way to check.
5. Install a rain barrel. If it’s allowed in your community, install a rain barrel or two or three. There is nothing like rainwater to irrigate plants, and it’s free.
6. Group containers and install a drip system. It’s an easy way to save water and also make your job easier in summer. Also, use a good quality potting mix.
7. Start small. Then, grow in a space for an entire year before expanding. You’ll be able to keep up with your garden, and the experience will make you a better gardener.
8. Mulch. You’ve read this one a million times, and there is good reason. Mulch cools the soil, lessens water consumption and, if organic, increases your soil’s fertility and tilth. I like chopped oak leaves because they decompose within a season. Use what’s local.
9. Build your best soil. Again, this is dependent upon where you live. Consult other gardeners who reside in your area. They will know the best places to buy compost and might even teach you how to make your own.
10. Grow natives and other drought tolerant beauties. Salvias, sunflowers, rudbeckias, crapemyrtles, native grasses, esperanza and zinnias all pack a punch in the landscape and are drought tolerant too. While a drought-tolerate landscape may be succulents in your area, in another, it’s prairie wildflowers. It all depends on where you live.Don’t let the heat get you down. Instead, combat it with these ideas. You can succeed in spite of the weather.