Dealing with a Drought in Your Garden

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When is the last time you had rain? Parts of the country are experiencing flooding, and in Houston, we are dealing with higher than normal temperatures coupled with no rain.

My last water bill was quite high. My goal is to reduce my water consumption, so I was not too happy with my behavior that led to this unwanted expense. In my mind, I was justifying my actions with the fact that food prices are rising, and I am growing vegetables to counter those prices (a note in the grocery store today pointed out that many crops have been damaged by the weather, so prices will fluctuate). I was also thinking of my foundation. Keeping the ground at a consistent moisture level will help the house. However, this bill brought my focus back to my goal. Yes, I could justify my actions, but I could not really. I, like all of my neighbors, will have to make choices to deal with the drought.

    I stopped my normal watering routine to watch the plants. I knew that certain vegetables are water hogs, so I was expecting to see stress on these plants. Pepper plants fall into this category. Some plants show stress during the heat of the day, even when well watered.  This would be my squash. Most of my plants are perennials that are pretty well established. I watched the garden each day by taking a stroll around the home. Most established plants were looking fine with less water. The azeala bushes were the one exception. By the end of a hot day, the azealas were drooping. My pepper plants held out longer than I thought. This observation period gave me an idea of what I needed to do with my watering routine (I determined where I needed to water more often, and where I could avoid watering).  I also removed some hold overs from the winter garden that were not growing, such as some beets. You may be surprised to find that many of your plants do not require as much water as you are giving them. To check for stress, look for leaves that appear limp. In my own garden, the tomato, pepper, cucumber, and azaleas needed more water than the other plants.
    My next step was to add mulch. Vegetables are mixed in with my other plants. I heard a homeowner exclaim that vegetables should not have mulch. The reasoning was that he felt this would benefit insects that could attack the vegetables. Maybe you are giving some of these pests cover, but I never found that to be the case; moreover, the cedar mulch deters many pests. I added about two inches of mulch to all of my beds. I already had mulch in many beds, but I made sure that this was good all around the house. 
    After the mulch, I moved plants to better spots. This does mean extra water to establish them in their new home. I realized that I had impatiens that were in full sun. I had planted them when this part of the garden has less light, but I forgot that during the summer, this garden section maintains a full sun condition for most of the day. I found that my hanging baskets did better if they are in morning sun with afternoon shade.  I did not have to make too many changes, but the ones I did make helped to reduce my water usage.
    I use native plants, yet I also planted non-natives. My antique button roses are a favorite of mine. To obtain good flower production, the rose bush needs water. I decided to pass on the flowers, but I want a healthy bush. I water enough to keep the bush looking healthy. If flowers bloom, I am happy. In fact, many plants need heavy water for heavy flower production. Natives do not need as much to begin their flowering. My Turk’s Cap is blooming. I do deliver more water to plants producing vegetables, such as my eggplants. I water by hand which makes this task easier. Lawn sprinkler systems could be adjusted. A sprinkler at the end of the hose could be moved. Hand watering is relaxing to me, and I feel that this method offers the best control. Deep watering is also important. You want the roots of the plants to go down further into the ground. Deep watering is achieved by watering a section of garden till you have a pool of water on the ground. At that point, water has saturated the surface, but needs to sink to the lower depths. This is harder to determine with mulch. I found that watering the same spot for about a minute accomplishes the deep watering.
    Observation of the garden is the key. I do not mind walking around the house. I am spending a great deal of time outside anyway (children playing). Once I see signs of stress, I begin to water. If I did not pay attention, then the stress could hurt the plants.

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This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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