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Brenda's Garden
Saving Water in Brenda's Garden
by Brenda Beust Smith
Monday, June 07, 2010

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.  ~John Ruskin


Don't know that, come mid-summer, I'll be in total agreement with ol' John Ruskin.  When it's so hot and so dry . . . well, it takes some pretty special plants to survive when no one's around to water.

DEAR BRENDA:  We plan to travel a lot this summer, and and will be in and out of town a lot.  I'm so worried about my plants.  What can I do to protect them?  We really don't have anyone who can come in and water.  S.S.

DEAR S.S.:  Of course, having a neighbor or friend come in and turn on the sprinklers once a week would be the best solution.   But if that's not in the cards, here are some other tips.

1. Install a soaker hose system.  The new ones have poke-in spouts that you can put right where there are plants, and nowhere else.  You don't want these too large or too close together, or all the water will drain out too fast.  These are far more efficient than overhead sprinklers which, in our summers, will lose most of their moisture to evaporation. 

If you don't have water spigots close to beds, use a multi-head attachment so you can hook up a number of hoses to the spigots you do have.  Use regular hoses to traverse the area between the spigot and the garden.  Then hook on the soaker hose.

Whenever you're in town, turn on the soaker hoses and let them run for as long as  possible.  If the water comes out slowly enough, it will soak deep into the lower soil levels which is where you want the roots to grow anyway. These levels are far slower to dry out.  The roots will grow toward these moist "pools."

2. Mulch your garden really well.  You can use leaves (anything but pecan) and pine needles or you can invest in a pine bark mulch from the nursery.  Either will work.  Mulch will help keep the soil cooler and slow moisture evaporation.

3. Plants that are exposed to hot afternoon sun would appreciate a shade canopy while you're gone.  This is nothing more than a cloth stretched over some poles on the west side.  You can take it down when you're home and remove it when you leave.

4. Move all container plants — whether sun plants or shade — into a shady spot when you leave.

5. Make a note of which plants died or just barely survived while you're gone.  Obviously these are varieties that don't belong in your garden given your new lifestyle. Get rid of them.

What to plant instead? Well, until Ike so viciously removed all traces of our 45-year-young beachhouse, we spent every summer on Bolivar Peninsula, returning to our Houston home only long enough to pick up mail and mow the lawn.

This gave me a good chance to figure out which plants will and won't put up with that kind of treatment.  Among my recommendations for you:

Sun: aloe vera, amaryllis, antique roses, bauhinia, bulbine, butterflyweed, (most) cacti, cannas, cassia, crepe myrtles (tree/shrub/weeping), cuphea, duranta, esperanza, feijoa, gaura, giant white spider lilies, hamelia, lantana, Mexican zinnias, oleander, pride of Barbados, russellia, red yucca, sweet autumn clematis

Part shade: Althaea, American beautyberry, butterflyweed, cestrum, (most) clerodendrons, coreopsis, cosmos, crinums, daylilies, europys, four o'clocks, (most) gingers, hibiscus, mums, narcissus, plumbago, rangoon creeper, shrimp plants

Shade: barlaria, cane begonias, bleeding heart vine, indigo, Louisiana iris,

If you don't recognize some of these, try "googling" them. Most can be viewed with growing instructions on the Houston Chronicle Garden Website
(  Look for "plant search."  You may know these plants by different names. Most are easy to find in nurseries.

P.S.  Don't miss new posts. Make the Lazy Gardener's Blog ( your home page.

Brenda Beust Smith (Features > Brenda's Garden)
Email Brenda for list of area gardening/environmental speakers ($5) andlist of her topics for garden club presentations ($250-$300)


"THE LAZY GARDENER'S GUIDE ON CD" — a gardening book on CD offers gardening tips plus 12 pre-designed gardens for butterflies, hummers, sun, shade and more. Monthly what-to-do reminders for Greater Houston/Gulf Coast gardens. $20 each. Make checks payable to Brenda B. Smith & mail to: Lazy Gardener's Guide on CD, 14011 Greenranch,
 Houston, TX 77039-2103.

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