Gardening in a Changing Environment

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Gardening in a Changing Environment

by Sheryl and Robert Yantis

The weather conditions of the last few years have challenged Highland Lakes gardeners to change and adapt their practices to the drier and hotter weather conditions.

The Texas Hill Country is a unique environment for gardeners. The soil in most areas is alkaline which limits the plants that thrive here. Choosing the right plants is very important to insure a successful garden. Everyone can have a successful garden if they pick the right plants for the sun, shade, soil, and water requirements of their gardens. If you select native or adapted plants that are more suited to our climate and soil, you will have more time to enjoy your garden and become more connected to the land of Central Texas. Native plants belong here. Some adapted plants and hybrid plants have native Texas parentage and are equally suited to this area. To be successful gardeners, we need to be flexible and adapt to our surroundings like native plants have been doing for hundreds of years.

Spring seems to have started earlier the last few years and we need to start working in our gardens earlier. We may need to prune and prepare our garden a little earlier so that we can be ready to plant when the soil temperature starts to rise. We still need to consider the possibility of a last spring freeze and have a way to protect some of our tender new plants and vegetables. Choosing heirloom and heat tolerant varieties of vegetables may extend the length of production of your vegetable garden. If we continue to have mild winters and early springs, early blooming varieties and low chill hour fruit trees may be worth consideration for our home gardens.

Consider planting a fall garden. Fall is one of the best times to garden in Texas. You will find that your fall crop of tomatoes may be larger than your spring and summer crop. During mild winters, like this year, you can enjoy cool weather vegetables and herbs all winter long.

The less water, fertilizer and pesticides we use, the more we help to preserve wildlife, preserve the water quality of our lakes and rivers, and conserve water. One of the most important things you can do for your garden is to add compost to the top layers of soil. The use of compost in addition to at least three inches of mulch will not only improve your soil and help keep your flowers, vegetables and trees healthy but will help conserve and utilize all the available water, especially during our hot dry summers.

We all hope that our rainfall will increase, but we need to help our soil retain as much moisture as possible.

We need to consider collecting water for our gardens especially during the drought we are now experiencing. One way that most of us forget about during the summer is using the condensate from our air conditioners during the summer. You will be surprised how much water you can collect from this one source. If you are unable to collect the water in a bucket, you can plant vegetables, herbs or flowers in the area around the pipe and utilize the water in that way.

There are also native and adapted plants that prefer little or no watering such as the black foot daisy. Also consider planting some of our native and adapted plants such as milkweed and mistflower for butterflies and bees. Salvia coccinea and many other native plants will attract hummingbirds and other beneficial wildlife. You can also choose plants that are deer resistant. Consider native grasses that have survived past droughts and provide lots of interest, as well as food, for our birds during the fall and winter.

There are a lot of beautiful plants that have adapted to local soils and have survived many droughts. Many plants have adapted and flourished here and so can local gardeners.