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Gardening with Laurie: Mulching, compost are two great water conservation techniques

By By Laurie Garretson
Oct. 17, 2013 at 5:17 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

By now, I assume that almost every adult in the state realizes we are experiencing one of the worst droughts in recorded history. According to the state's climatologist John Neilsen Gammon, "the drought began in October 2010 and has continued through 2013."

In reality, we have been preparing for drought conditions since the 1970s. That is when the environmental movement really began.

That's when we started seeing all kinds of water-saving equipment come on the market: water-conserving washing machines, toilets and faucets, and a push to change our landscaping style.

That's when we started hearing about the importance of converting to xeriscape gardening.

Gardeners began to realize the importance of using native plants in landscapes. Native plants are more adapted to the rain cycles in our areas.

Organic gardeners know how important it is to conserve water. Organic gardeners know the two most important water conserving techniques gardeners have are mulching with natural materials and building the life of the soil.

Building the humus content of our soils is how we increase the microbial activity and improve the soil's moisture absorption and its retention.

To accomplish this we add a lot of compost to our soils. Compost slowly mineralizes in the soil, which is a very good thing.

Hot summer temperatures cause compost to break down even faster. It's advisable to add compost at least two to three times a year to all of your landscape.

The other important water-saving technique is mulching. Mulch can serve other purposes such as reducing weed growth and adding a finished look to beds but helping to retain moisture is a big asset.

It has been proven that a 4- to 6-inch layer of natural organic matter (mulch) applied all over a tree or shrub's root system will give that plant up to three months protection from drought stress. Plus, as the mulch decomposes, it adds organic matter to the soil.

Mulching also helps with erosion control, reduces leaching of good soil materials and encourages beneficial earthworms.

All else said, mulch is a very valuable resource at all times, especially during drought conditions.

With no definite end in sight to our water woes, we all have to seriously take responsibility for conserving our water usage.

Even after this drought is over, its affects will still be felt for many years to come.

Gardeners can make a big difference with good gardening techniques.

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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