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Gardening with Laurie: Prepare soil for drought

Sept. 15, 2011 at 4:15 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

By Laurie Garretson

Today's organic gardeners have been preparing for drought conditions all along. Droughts are not an uncommon occurrence in our part of the world. One of the worst droughts occurred in the mid-1930s. Even today, you can talk to farmers and ranchers who remember the drought of the '50s. The uncertain rain cycles certainly make life harder for farmers, ranchers and gardeners. We have become accustomed to the large amounts of rain one season, that are then followed by many months of well-below-average rain amounts.

Many of the drought preparations organic gardeners have been doing really began in the late '70s. It was then that many types of water-saving equipment came about, items such as water conserving faucets, low-flow toilets and rain barrels. It was then that we first began to hear about Xeriscape gardening. Gardeners were encouraged to change their gardening habits. Smaller lawns where encouraged, as were well-adapted, native grasses and plants. Organic gardeners knew that native plants where already adapted to the rain cycles of different areas.

Over the decades, the importance of water conservation has increased as water shortages and water restrictions on outdoor use have become more common. Many communities in the United States have initiated guidelines for water usage and conservation. Even today, in our area, we are under Stage 2 of the city's Drought Contingency Plan, which has restricted our hours of outdoor water usage.

Organic gardeners know that building soils with lots of good organic matter and mulching are probably the two most important parts of organic gardening that help to conserve water.

For many centuries, farmers all over the world have realized the importance of adding compost or organic matter to their soils. Organic farmers know that soils with a high organic content will increase the productivity of the land. The result of this soil-building recipe means increased microbial activity and improved moisture absorption and retention, which is so important, especially during drought conditions. In our hot climate, it is important that we replenish the soil with compost seasonally.

Mulching is only second in importance to adding compost to the soil. Not only will native mulches add organic matter back to the soil as it decomposes, but most importantly, mulch helps to conserve moisture. Mulching also helps to lower the soil temperature, encourages earthworms, stops erosion and helps to reduce the leaching of valuable materials from the soil.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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