How to care for your landscape during a drought

How to care for your landscape during a drought

If you're planning a spring landscaping project and need help remembering how to care for specific plants, visit Once you complete the free registration, enter the name of a plant along with your ZIP code. You'll receive care instructions for that plant at designated times throughout the year.

2011 will be a hard year to forget for homeowners throughout the Southeast, try as we might. The intense, unending heat wave and record-breaking drought levels are seared into the landscape and our collective memory. With all but a handful of areas in Texas and Louisiana reaching exceptional drought levels - the highest intensity of dryness - it's hard to find any landscape that hasn't been stressed or scorched. Abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions were present throughout Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, while the Carolinas ran the entire drought scale.

Though temperatures have moderated with the season, uncertainty looms over the coming year. Will watering restrictions mandate a new mindset toward our home landscapes? Will we even have yards to maintain? "I'd say even though drought conditions remained pretty steady, we had no drop-off in our planting business in 2011," says Zack Nino, owner of A-rated Zack's Landscape and Lawn in Houston. "It just required a lot more water."

As for 2012, Nino anticipates similar weather conditions. "We'll be replacing grass, plants and trees that didn't make it," he says. "My advice to customers getting ready for next year is to have an irrigation professional out to go over their system. They need to check for leaks, adequate watering coverage and sprinkler head function."

Traditionally, notes that gardeners make to themselves at the end of a growing season focus on the plants that did well and those that bombed, suffered disease and pest invasions, and how well they yielded flowers, fruits and vegetables. This year's summaries might be quite different. Depending on how dry it was in your region, you may be considering more drought-tolerant plants and more extensive soil amendments to retain as much moisture as possible.

Angie's List member Caroline Weller says the new landscaping she installed this spring around her Houston home is still alive, though it took a lot of water over the summer to keep it going. "I'm already planning on phase two for my landscape next year," she says. "They say it's likely to be as bad next year as it was this year." Weller intends to remove a portion of the turf grass and shrink the size of her lawn, installing vinca in its place and adding a broad stone-block perimeter.

And, she says she'll hire Nino to continue his work on her landscape. "Zack is so conscientious and does such great work," she says. "I've even recommended him to my neighbor - he's very good.

Ellen Goff is a freelance horticulture writer and photographer. She's passionate about plants, water quality and protecting the environment. Aside from working with words and pictures, she stays busy with her home landscape and its inhabitants along the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.


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