Waiting for the rain: Texas gardeners prioritize watering

Water is key to keeping trees and plants productive and alive until much-needed rains arrive. Many Texans must prioritize what to water and what not to water at the moment.

Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications

For most Texas gardeners, the summer heat has felt never-ending, and rain has been extremely sparse, creating a need to prioritize which plants to water, and which can wait.

“Unfortunately, water remains the name of the game as we move into September,” said Dr. Larry Stein, a horticulturist with the Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Service and a professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “. “September is usually the transition month from summer to fall, but there are often many 100-degree days in September as well.”

A pair of hands wearing garden gloves plant annual plants in garden soil.
Annual plants will soon be available for purchase in stores but you should resist the urge to plant until the weather cools

Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications

September also usually brings much-needed fall showers, so don’t give up hope, Stein said.

“It’s been a very hot and dry summer, and a lot of the plants are hurting and some of them seem to be dying,” Stein said. “Water as best you can now, pray for rain and wait there until it comes.”

With the U.S. Drought Monitor showing most of Texas ranging from abnormally dry to exceptionally dry, very few parts of the state are getting the rain crops and gardens people need right now. Currently, more than 75% of the state is in drought, affecting more than 23.5 million people.

“Maintaining adequate moisture in the lawn and landscape is the No. 1 priority in late summer and fall,” Stein said.

Texans struggling with water restrictions will have to continue to choose where they put their water and how best to conserve it.

“Ideally, one should water trees and shrubs by giving them at least one inch of water weekly, delivered slowly, around the plants away from the drip irrigation line,” he said.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Gardening Guide released last month provides additional guidance on watering during drought as well as some conservation tips.

Critical time for pecans, green fruit plants and berries

For Texans having to prioritize where to use water, keep in mind that now is a critical time for pecans.

“Pecans need to have enough water to fill the kernels and promote healthy opening of the shell,” Stein said. “A lack of water will reduce the fullness of the nut and delay the opening of the shell.”

A pecan tree branch with nuts attached before harvest at Texas A&M
Without enough water, pecans will not fill their kernels adequately. Lack of moisture will also delay the opening of the shock.

Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications

Plants that already have fruits or berries in the green stage need to pay special attention during drought. Lack of moisture can cause the fruit to drop as well as reduce size and affect colour.

When thinking ahead to decorate for the holiday season, Stein said keep an eye on your holly plants. Water is needed so that the berries reach their festive shade and remain on the plant until it is time to use. Owners of these plants also state that raw holly berries are toxic to people and pets.

Garden tips for September

Rejuvenation of geraniums and begonias

Rejuvenate heat-stressed geraniums and begonias for the fall season with light pruning, fertilizing and watering.

Apply light fertilizer

Deadhead roses and other perennials and then apply a light fertilizing for fall blooms.

Prune wisely

Prune dead or diseased wood from trees and shrubs, but hold off on major pruning until midwinter. Pruning now may stimulate tender growth before frost.

Close-up of a white flower on a strawberry plant.
If you want strawberries in the spring, now is a good time to think about planting them.

Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications

Divide flowering perennials

Divide spring-flowering perennials such as iris, Shasta daisy, Gaillardia, cannas, daylilies, violets, liriope and ajuga. Repot these sections into well-prepared soil with generous amounts of organic matter applied in the top 8 to 10 inches. Water well.

Prepare the soil for the bulbs

Prepare garden beds for spring flowering bulbs as soon as possible. It is important to cultivate the soil and add large amounts of organic matter to improve water drainage. Bulbs will rot without proper drainage.

Think seasonal color

Flower farms at this time can provide natural color for three seasons in the central, eastern and southern parts of Texas. Annuals released early enough will bloom as soon as Thanksgiving and often continue until Memorial Day.

Do not plant annuals until the weather cools

Annuals that should soon be available in nurseries and garden stores include petunias, calendula and pansies. Resist the urge to plant until the weather cools.

Transplant biennial flowers such as bluebonnets

Now is also a good time to plant biennial flowers like poppies, larkspur, sweet peas, bluebells, etc.

Think about strawberries next spring

In addition, it is time to plant strawberry plants for harvest next spring.

Lots about a steady tree base.  Mulch helps retain moisture during dry times and protects the tree during freezing times as well.
Mulch around trees and plants can help retain critical moisture during the warmer months.

Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications

Add mulch as needed

Renew the mulch around trees and shrubs. Mulch is essential for retaining moisture, so check for bare spots and add as needed.

Start planting cool-season vegetable seeds

Start cool-season vegetables, such as mustard, lettuce, arugula, broccoli, carrots and kale, from seed in well-prepared beds.

Harvest as many vegetables as you can

Harvest okra, peppers, squash and other vegetables often to encourage more production.

Pest plan

Now is a good time to evaluate the fire ant situation in your garden and develop a plan to control them.

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