Drought-Tolerant Landscapes for Sun City TXRandy K. PensabeneTheres a joke in Texas that goes: Its so hot in Texas that [fill in the blank.] Its so hot inTexas that you no longer associate bridges with water. Its so hot that you can make instant (1)sun tea. Its so hot that you realize asphalt has a liquid state.This year it was so hot – and dry - in Texas that it was hard to find the humor. It was so hotin Texas that the state surpassed Oklahoma as having the hottest, driest June throughAugust on record in the country and that it suffered the worst single drought year on staterecord. Water was rationed and will continue to be if predictions that the heat and droughtwill persist into 2012 – and maybe beyond - are correct. The driest period on record for thestate is the 1950s. Today four times the number of people live - and need water - in Texas (1)as did in the 50s.We cant change the temperature or make it rain, but homeowners can take action by (1)rethinking their landscapes to emphasize drought-tolerant native plants. Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) makes a lovely groundcover even when temperatures flare up. It is pictured here with thorn- crested agave (Agave univittata), an (1) evergreen succulent. LEFT TO RIGHT: Turks cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides), gayfeather (Liatris mucronata) with (1) Agave spp. and cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) with chocolate daisy (Berlandiera lyrata)Plants well suited to dry heat, include succulents and cacti like prickly pear, agaves, twisted leaf yucca (Yucca rupicola), Texas sagesand sotols. Flowering plants like blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), gayfeather (Liatris mucronata), flame acanthus (1)(Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) and damianita (Chrysactinia Mexicana) need little to no water once established.Our low-water use native grasses also add lots of soft texture and movement to a drought tolerant landscape. Big muhly(Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula, our state grass) and hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsute) seedheads also add interest and bird food during the winter (so don’t cut these grasses back before late winter). Don’t overlook Nolinas,which are in the lily family, are evergreen, grass-like and have beautiful blooms; two recommended for our area: Texas beargrass(Nolina texana) and devil’s shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana)."Plants that are native to hot, dry locations rely on different strategies to survive when those conditions are at their worst," says theLady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centers Director of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya. "Some natives like winecups and liatris areable to store water in their fleshy taproots or underground stems. Others like Turks cap or Texas lantana have fibrous root systems (1)that are able to extend deep in the soil to find more moisture."Other features that allow plants to endure harsh weather conditions are fine and dense thorns like those of the lace cactus(Echinocereus reichenbachii) which act as a screen to protect the plant from harsh sun. Some plants like candellia (Euphorbiaantisyphilitica) have a waxy texture that helps seal moisture in and gives a greyish appearance to reflect sunlight and keep the plant (1)cool. Succulents of course store water in their plant tissue.
You might hear: "Once established, plants will require little to no water" When do plants establish? It depends on the plant. Smaller, fast-growing plants like annuals and herbaceous perennials establish faster – maybe in just a few months – and larger woody plants like trees can take up to four or five years. DeLong-Amaya says, "It is best not to push plants too hard when they are young. They will actually establish faster if you give them mild fertilizer like compost (really more of a soil conditioner), fish emulsion and seaweed – that has minerals and other nutrients the plant uses to grow roots. "Pushing plants too hard – say with fast releasing or heavy doses of synthetic fertilizers – can result in abundant foliage and flowers but weaker root systems." Appropriate watering (not too much, not too little), soil (1) preparation, and mulching helps with everything.Plant tags never say “Won’t do well in Central Texas” or “Highly invasive, will destroy nature areas” or “Won’t support localwildlife”:Many gardeners who aren’t “in the know” plant all kinds of plants here that frankly don’t belong in Texas. With big-box nurseriescarrying plants procured by their central office and Sun City residents planting what they are familiar with from ‘back home’, manyill-adapted plants end up here in Sun City. Remember, if a plant loves Europe and the North, where winters are cold and summersare mild, it will hate Texas and likewise, if a plant loves California’s sunshine and cool summer evenings, it will struggle in Texas.The other plants that do not belong in Sun City are the invasive landscape plants, often touted as ‘adapted’. Yes, they do well here,but their seeds are spread by birds, wind and water runoff, and they can completely replace the native flora and become expensiveto manage. What makes invasive species dangerous is their aggressive natures out-compete native plants – plants that our birds,butterflies, bees and other wildlife depend on. Do you love our Sun City open spaces and nature areas? Would you like to see thempreserved? There are so many wonderful native and non-invasive plants to choose from as an alternative.Native plant, animal and insect species work together in a naturalharmony. Plant a variety of native host plants for butterflies, nativenectar sources for our hummingbirds and insects. Be sure to plantmilkweeds for the monarchs, native shrubs and grasses for coverand nesting and native plants with berries for our birds.You can have a pleasing, low water use, low maintenance landscapeby choosing among the many species native to the region. Beresponsible when buying plants or when using a professionallandscaper. Demand the use of alternatives to invasive landscapeplants. The local plant sales and locally owned nurseries employknowledgeable staff and will carry plants that have been grown inour area for our area. They are carrying more native and adapteddrought tolerant plants as water becomes scarce and interestgrows. Non-invasive plants that are well-adapted to our climate andsoils can save both water and headaches for homeowners and help Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens) Fall blooming, evergreen,to preserve our nature areas and support our wildlife. nectar source that can be used to make a nice, thick hedge or screen. Red berries in winter; attracts birds and butterflies.When deciding which plants to buy:Study the conditions of the spot where you will plant. Know the number of hours of sun versus hours of shade it receives each day ineach season, if it is cooler morning sun or scorching afternoon sun, what type of drainage you have and the soil type. Do deer visit (1)the spot; you may require deer-resistant plants?Assess what types of characteristics you want to add to your garden: blooms, color, texture, height or shape. Answer whether youwant drought-resistant plants (yes!!), fast-growing plants, blooms in different seasons, hummingbird (etc.) plants or evergreen (1)plants. Consider how well particular plants will fare given the conditions of your garden.Learn about which plants that will meet your needs AND do well in our soil and climate extremes. If using a landscaping company,insist on drought tolerant native and non-invasive adapted plants. Then verify the plant list they provide with one of the native and (1)adapted plant resources listed at the end of this article.
Prepare the area of the garden that will be receiving the plants. Ideally, plants that are brought home are best planted right away. Ifyou must hold plants for a few weeks, be careful to give them adequate light and not let them dry out or overwater. If plants are atthe verge of being root bound, they should be moved into larger pots before going into the ground.Have options. A well thought out plant list is key, but staying flexible may allow you to discover a plant you havent considered. Its (1)possible the plant you want is not easily available, so having alternatives and being open to new possibilities is smart shopping. Recommended Species Go to www.wildflower.org/collections for the following links & more! Deer Resistant - Native plants that deer tend to avoid. Texas Wildscapes - Plant List from the Texas Wildscapes CD-ROM (TPWD). Hill Country Horticulture - Native plants for the Central Texas Hill Country. Sun Garden Plants for Central Texas - Native plants that work well in a full sun garden. Dry Shade Plants for Central Texas - Native plants that work well in dry shade. Hummingbird Plants for Central Texas - Native plants that attract hummingbirds. Container Garden Plants for Central Texas - Native plants for container gardens. Drought Resistant Plants for Central Texas - Native plants that perform well during drought.What will the consequences be of not watering our lawns, our trees, our bushes, etc. during water restrictions:In the short term, nature has a way of adapting to periods of stress from lack of water. Grasses go dormant, trees shed their leavesand drop branches and plants stop growing to conserve their energy. If the lack of water continues plants become weak, diseaseprone, begin to die back and will eventually die. Large established trees are the most costly to replace and our native trees areintrinsically more tolerant of our typical climatic conditions and should be the focus of any watering allowed during extendeddrought. Remove any already dead plants as they are a fire hazard. In the summer, water your lawn only as absolutely necessary andaccept their not so green appearance as appropriate.But, let’s consider the bigger picture. When a region cannot sufficiently supply the demand for water – shortages, restrictions onwater use and higher prices result. Periods of flooding followed by drought is a normal, recurring feature of the climate in CentralTexas – granted it is not usually this dry and hot for this long, but our weather extremes are a given.The average American uses 140-170 gallons of water per day however inGeorgetown the average is 200-210 gallons of water per day! WilliamsonCounty is the second highest per-capita user of potable water in the entire (2)State! Landscaping accounts for about half the water used in a home.We must all do a better job of reducing our dependency on so much water sowe are better prepared for the next, inevitable, water restriction. The CALandscaping Department is using more water conserving native plantings inour common areas. Many residents are unaware that the requirement forlawn grass in Sun City is ONLY ‘approximately 80% of the first 10 feet off thestreet (or streets if corner lot)’. There are a few other Design Guidelinerequirements to meet but it leaves many options for eliminating grass.Surf the internet, read Central Texas landscape books and join local clubs and Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) Bushy, low-organizations. Drive around looking at yards and gardens to see what looks growing, aromatic, evergreen shrub. Wildlife use:good here or contact a landscaper for ideas. Replace most of that lawn and cover, nesting site, nectar-insects.those high water use plants with environmentally friendly and pleasingalternative solutions.
Recommended Central Texas plant information resources:– Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region, Sally Wasowski & Andy Wasowski – A MUST HAVE for any Texas gardener. Aimed directly at making good plant selections. Beautiful color close-ups with common and Latin names and every plant described in detail - size, sun/shade, wet/dry, clay/sand, etc. - conveniently organized by categories (groundcovers, trees, shrubs, etc.) and provides specific garden plans.– Austin Grow Green Guide, Native and Adapted Landscape Plants – Plants that are commonly available in the nursery trade that do well here. Also includes a wonderful list of native alternatives to some well-known invasive landscape plants. (NOTE: Not all the plants listed are native, & also please read the plant notes carefully & avoid any that say “avoid planting near preserves since it may spread”!) City of Austin - Grow Green website – www.ci.austin.tx.us/growgreen– Central Texas Invasive Plants brochure: www.ci.austin.tx.us/growgreen/downloads/invasiveplants.pdf Residents can help by not planting these plants in their landscape and removing them when possible.– Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (WFC), 4801 LaCrosse Avenue Austin, TX 78739 – Gardens display native plants of the Central Texas Hill Country, South and West Texas. Native Plant Information Network www.wildflower.org - informative articles and events. Native plant sale each spring and fall.– Texas Gardener Magazine – www.texasgardener.com– Williamson County Extension Office: williamson.agrilife.org/publications/ Lots of free brochures on most any landscaping topic.– Legacy Hills Park Pavilion, ‘Naturescaped’ with native plants. Brochure of plants used can be found by the Pavilion building and signs identify the plants in each bed.– Native Plant Demonstration Garden, On Sun City Blvd. sidewalk between the two Great Frontier Drives by the Berry Creek Bridge on Sun City Blvd. Maintained by the Nature Club’s Native Plant SIG.– Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT), Williamson County Chapter nativeplantswilliamsoncounty.org –Promotes the conservation, research and utilization of the native plants and plant habitats of Texas, through education, outreach and example. Meets at Georgetown Library every 2nd Thursday of month at 7 pm.– Sun City Nature Club – Nature Club’s Native Plant SIG – Provides education in and encourages the use of native plants in homeowner landscaping. Promotes the enjoyment and learning all about our native plants through regularly scheduled nature walks and field trips.– Sun City Horticulture Club – Plant sale in each spring and fall featuring a variety of drought tolerant and deer resistant native and non-invasive adapted landscape plants, and vegetables and herbs. Monthly speakers that address rain water collection, caring for plants, trees, and organic vegetable gardening.– Sun City Garden Club – Beginning and experienced gardeners dedicated to making our gardens beautiful and our gardening experiences more enjoyable and productive.References:1. It Was So Hot in Texas, webpage feature article www.wildflower.org/feature/?id=74, Christina Procopiou, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (use of this article was approved on 11/1/11 by: Communications Director, Saralee Tiede, 512.232.0104)2. Glenn Dishong, Utility Director, Georgetown Utility Systems, email to Randy Pensabene 1/1/2011