Extreme Heat and a Depressed Landscape
I keep thinking about the influx of people who’ve recently moved into my area over the last several years and what an awful surprise it must be to spend a real summer in Austin Texas. Not only is there oppressive, extreme heat and humidity for us, (exacerbated by concrete) but it’s down right depressing to watch your landscape cry for mercy in a brutal heat wave with water restrictions.
With a reduction in water resources and a significant increase in population, there is no denying this is the trend going forward and we cannot assume that our supplies will be replenished by typical rain events.
This comes down to a number of things that are needed in order to make the adjustments to adapt to a changing climate. We will have to start looking at the landscape a little differently because our experience in these extremes of cold and heat are an education for our future. The good news is that there are some small changes that can make a huge impact towards success and productive stewardship.
Compost can save the world. Why? Because it replaces chemical fertilizers in a myriad of ways. Ask yourself, “who is fertilizing the woods”? The answer is compost. Decaying plants and animals, as well as beneficial fungi and bacteria all play part in the growth and success of the forest floor and in turn, the forest creates its own food.
A spring and fall application of compost to the depth of 2-4 inches not only fertilizes your soil, but it adds soil depth, chelates chemical damage, retains moisture and feeds mycorrhizal fungi that creates a web of food exchange beneath the soil. The only way to have a healthy garden and landscape is to have healthy soil. Stop using chemicals entirely and invest in compost.
Water collection is as old as humanity. It is a valuable asset for a myriad of reasons and your city would rather charge you for it than make you aware of the millions of gallons of water we allow to flow from our property over a lifetime.
Install gutters and add rain barrels anywhere you can. Make sure they are high enough for the water pressure to work and install them on firm ground, stone or concrete for best results. The typical 2000 square foot house can collect over 30,000 gallons of water in an average rain fall year. That’s free money.
Reduce the Lawn
Adding native and adapted plant beds and trees not only increases the beauty of your home, but it saves a ton of water once established. You can see on one side the neighbor has a yard of lawn and on the other, a yard of color, texture interest and homes for wildlife and food pollinators, but with less need for water.
Appropriate Plant Selection
I xeriscape like the rainforest. That doesn’t mean I use water hogging plants, just the opposite. I use super drought tolerant plants in a layering affect from canopy to ground cover. This allows the plants to shield one another from the elements, keeps the heat from blasting the soil and holds moisture in longer.
Most importantly in the equation is to use native and adapted, non invasive plants ONLY. Non native plants have no checks and balances giving them open season on our ecosystem. Native plants feed our pollinators and wildlife which is why they’re here in the first place. Native plants also thrive in our annual rainfall and soil conditions which makes out job easier all around. Check out this helpful link for native plant selections.
Central Texas has 2 planting seasons and they are painfully short. Spring is from mid March until early May and before temps are consistently in the 90’s. Fall is even shorter with a later September, early October window that lasts until around Thanksgiving. This is the only way you can establish root systems enough before either the heat or a freeze knocks them down. The goal is to establish the root system enough that the plants/trees can hold their own without stressing over and over.
Plant Native Trees
Trees are the lungs and oxygen of our planet. With severe deforestation, it’s ever more crucial that each is do our part to restore them. It’s also a huge advantage in the heat. It can be 20° cooler under a tree the cost savings for trees planted near the home can be enormous over time.
Contrary to popular belief, watering should be only once a week and deeply to the depth of one inch. This can be measured by placing a flat sided vessel like a tuna can near your water source to count how long it takes to get to that depth, or buy an inexpensive moisture meter to test the soil moisture instead. Watering to shallow depths only trains the lawn and plants roots to stay at the surface for water which we all know is a bad idea in extreme heat.
Water early morning or after dusk to prevent heat damage through water magnification, or water loss through evaporation. These times of day or also less windy which allows the water to go where intended.
Schedule A Landscape Consultation
Every person who owns a home should have an educational landscape consultation. This is a wealth of information about your specific space and needs that sets you in the right direction. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact someone in your local area. I provide online consultation for anyone in zone 8 a/b or 9, and in person to anyone in and around the Austin area. This service pays for itself by saving you thousands in costly mistakes.
By applying some simple techniques and applications we can make a huge impact on water conservation and our own success.
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
Lisa’s Landscape & Design