by Bob Dailey, Master Gardener
As the furnace days of summer come blasting down, our first thoughts turn toward irrigating all those lawns and beautiful plants we’ve enjoyed all spring.
Irrigation isn’t the only thing we should be thinking of, though. Mulch and good soil are equally important.
Irrigation You might want to think about converting some of your sprinkler zones to drip irrigation. It’s cheap, easy to install, and can save a lot of water and therefore help lower the cost of your water bill. Even if you have a well, you can certainly cut down on the wear and tear of your pump and lower the risk of the well sanding up. Sprinklers waste water because much of the water evaporates – especially in hot and dry summers. Drip irrigation works best on plant beds because it gets right to the roots of the plants. The bonus: there is little, if any, evaporation.
Mulch We tend to forget mulch as a primary component for plants. Mulch helps prevent soil moisture from evaporating – holding the water in the soil where plant roots can access it. And as good soil can hold over three quarts of water per cubic foot, that means less watering for you.
Mulch helps cool down the soil in the summer, while keeping it warmer in the winter. Think of it as a sunshade in the summer and a blanket in the winter. Plant roots continue to thrive – generally unaffected by the ambient temperature and humidity.
Weeds love to spring up in the summer (and just about any other time of year). Mulch creates a serious detriment to weeds. Most weeds need sunlight and soil to germinate. Weed seeds, spread by wind, birds or other animals, fall on mulch and, depending on what type of mulch you use, find it very difficult to grow.
Types of Mulch
Twice-ground natural wood mulch is one of the best types of mulch. Dyed mulch is iffy, as is bark mulch. Dyed mulch may have all sorts of impurities as well as weeds in it, while bark mulch tends to float away after a heavy rain. If you’ve got pine trees, consider yourself lucky. Pine straw is one of the best mulches there is. Just rake your pine needles and put them down on your garden.
I just saw a lawn recently where a guy put down a weed and feed product and his whole lawn died. Texas A&M, A&M Agrilife Extension, and the master gardeners all strongly recommend not using weed and feed products.
Just make sure you have a healthy lawn. Do this by spreading a half-inch of compost in spring and fall, fertilize in early spring and early fall – but not now. If it doesn’t rain, irrigate no more than an inch a week. More water than that will probably kill the beneficial organisms in the soil and cause the soil to compact, making it very difficult for grass roots to penetrate.
Heat and Drought
I suggest that all of us follow the Texas Drought Monitor to see how dry Texas is right now. It’s been about 10 years since our last drought, and we need to look at the possibility that another is on the horizon. Already we know that this year, 2022, is the driest year to date on record for the last 123 years.