Debbie Roland, Master Gardener
It is difficult to get enough water on your plants, trees and turf in July and August in West Texas. With the additional problem of conserving water, what’s the answer?
When you water it seeps down to the root zone very gradually. Each layer needs to be filled to capacity before moving to the next lower layer. Water moves faster through sandy soil than it does through clay or silt. There is a big difference in soils in West Texas. If you haven’t had your soil tested by your local Extension office, run by there and pick up a kit. It’s inexpensive and worth the small cost. My soil tested as sandy loam which I have amended with compost over the last six years. I water my beds with a drip irrigation system once a week for two hours. I have only xeric plants which use less water.
Once the water moves through the layers of soil to the roots, the water requirement of your plants is the amount of water absorbed by the roots which moves to the leaves and is lost through vapor, called transpiration, plus the amount of water evaporated from the soil. The combination of these processes is called evapotranspiration. Loose translation for West Texas – if you water too much you waste water and if you water too little, it doesn’t reach the roots.
Once you know the type of soil you have, add drip irrigation to your beds and cover with about 3” of mulch. When you are ready to plant, simply pull the mulch back, put in your plant and gently move the mulch back. You will be able to watch your plants to see if they are getting too much water or not enough. Of course, new plants require more water than established plants. The best gauge you have is simply to put your finger in the soil several inches. If it is still moist, no water is needed. Check in a few spots everyday. When you discover that it is dry, that is how often you need to set your timer or mark your calendar as a reminder to turn on your drip system.
If you have plants that are not xeric, you might want to consider replacing a few at a time with plants that do well in our area without much water. For a list of these plants go to the Permian Basin Master Gardener website westtexasgardening.org.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information.