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Gardeners' Dirt: Gardening in Texas drought

By Kathy Toerck - Victoria County Master Gardener Intern Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Oct. 3, 2013 at 5:03 a.m.

The most recent available Texas drought monitor maps indicate that our area has improved from a moderate drought to abnormally dry conditions with rainfall the last couple of weeks. This map was updated Oct. 3  for purposes of this illustration. The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced in partnership among the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In 1891, Congress gave $2,000 to Gen. R.G. Dyrenforth to continue his research in creating rain by exploding dynamite and gunpowder in the air. Dyrenforth was really not a general; he was considered a "concussionist."

He noticed that during battles in which there were a lot of explosions in the sky from fighting that, generally, the next day rain fell. Guess where he started to test his theory? Midland.

Needless to say, his research was deemed an expensive farce after he blew up outhouses, scared cattle and generally wreaked havoc around the area.

Man has tried to come up with ways to control the weather, but so far, we have not been very successful, just like the general.

What is a drought?

According to the United States Geological Survey, drought is defined as a "condition of moisture deficit sufficient to have an adverse effect on vegetation, animals and man over a sizeable area." There are three types of drought:

Meteorological - abnormally dry weather

Agricultural - adverse effect on crops

Hydrological - water in streams, rivers, reservoirs, aquifers, lakes and soil that are below normal levels.

I believe that Texas at this point has them all.

Facts about the drought

According to Texas A&M University, most of Texas has been experiencing severe drought conditions for the last three years. Texas is in the worst drought on record. The driest year Texas has ever experienced was in 2011; the average rainfall across the state was 14.8 inches. Officially, the drought began in October 2011 and continues today.

Causes of drought

In 2011, the weather pattern known as La Nina was in control of our weather. During this pattern, the water of the Pacific Ocean is cooled. This creates drier and warmer weather in the southern U.S. Meteorologists predicted an El Nino pattern would form with more moisture and cooler temperatures, but so far, this has not happened. As of now, the drought is expected to hold steady or even worsen in the coming months.

U.S. drought monitor

A good source to look and see how your area is faring is to look at the monitor with a map that is updated weekly and shows the drought intensity in your particular area. See the map in conjunction with this article or go to droughtmonitor.unl.edu to look at the most recent data.

Gardening during drought

Earth-Kind Landscaping, developed by horticulturalists with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, is a program that suggests a number of environmentally responsible gardening practices that protect and preserve the environment during periods of both normal rainfall and drought conditions.

Planning and design - Make a sketch of your yard with existing plants and structures. Then consider the appearance, function, maintenance and water requirements of your existing plants. Then, if needed, consult experts to determine what other plants could be added to meet your landscape budget.

Practical turf areas - Select grasses according to their intended use, planting location and maintenance requirements.

Landscaping for energy conservation - Using specific landscaping principles, create microclimates around your home that increase energy efficiency.

Appropriate plant selection - This is an easy one. Always choose plants based on their adaptability to your soil and climate.

Soil improvement - Another easy one is to add organic matter to your soil. This improves plant health, conserves water and reduces the need for fertilizer.

Efficient irrigation and rainwater collection - A well-designed and properly cared-for irrigation system is the most efficient way to irrigate landscapes and lawns. Capturing and collecting rainwater has taken on a new popularity recently.

Efficient use of mulches - I discovered the benefit of mulching a few years ago. Time spent weeding and watering is significantly reduced when beds are mulched. With the recent hot temperatures, I'm always very surprised how cool the soil is where the mulch is 3 to 4 inches deep.

Appropriate maintenance - Following the previously discussed Earth-Kind principles greatly reduces the overall maintenance in your yard. Detailed explanations of these principles can be found at aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind.

We all know that eventually it will rain but being proactive and preparing for the time it doesn't rain - and preserving the water when we do have extra - is crucial in Texas.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.



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