A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

For the Love of Rain

Water is becoming a precious commodity in many parts of our nation. Texas has only come out of a long drought this year. Water rights and the distribution of water are taking center stage in many discussions now in state governments, and water restrictions are common place in many communities. How will our gardens grow without unlimited access to this resource?

Xeriscaping commands our attention when considering our gardening plans. The real idea behind this method of gardening is to include plants that are native or naturalized to our area. These plants will not require additional watering once established. Plants can travel along certain longitudunal ranges on our globe, but when removed from that zone, they need help to maintain the features that we chose them for. The best way to determine if a plant can do well in your garden without much extra help is to learn about its origins. Rodale press has many fine books going into plants, but you may find that someone has written a book about your area. Those annoying little plastic tags stuck into the pot have a good deal of information about the habitat of a plant, so read before you buy.

There are steps we can take to encourage our plants to become better at water usage though. Firstly, any plant will need to be watered well until it is established in its new found home. Watch for signs like drooping leaves to see when they might need water. The roots need to stretch out to find water in the new soil. They have not had to work hard in all those containers that they have been brought up in. After the establishing period, your plants roots will have acclimated to its new environment, and you will see new growth springing forth. Now it is time to teach your plant a trick. Many new homeowners water their garden well when they first move in, but as time goes on this chore falls to the side, and the plants suffer. Instead of maintaining a watering schedule that is consistent with establishing a garden, you will want to instruct your plants to grow their roots deep into the soil. You can accomplish this by deep watering. By watering an area heavily to let the water soak down into the ground, instead of staying on the surface, your plants roots will grow down to this water source. Once the roots are there, you can water less often. I water once a week. I saturate the soil in a given bed, and then move on to the next bed, so the water has a chance to sink in. I then return to this bed for another watering, so I force the water down deeper. I eventually come to the stage that I only water when there has been no rain for some time. This technique is great for grass. Grass is the real water hog of our gardens, but grass roots will also search their way down for water. I water by garden hose to accomplish this training.

If you will not water by hand, I think the next best method is drip irrigation. Sprinkler systems water leaves instead of the ground. Plants take up the water by their roots, so watering the leaves makes no sense. I have also repaired far too many sprinkler systems to know that they are easily damaged. I have also seen the damage that these systems do to homes as an inspector. Drip systems provide the water to the plant’s base, thus preventing water to evaporate before it can be used by the plant. Leaving moisture on the leaves encourages disease to afflict your loved ones. Another method to save on watering is to plant before your rainy season to let that water help establish your plants. This works with perennials, but annuals need to be planted at their proper time.

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