We constantly battle the weather. First, the winter cold damaged or killed plant material, and now the drought is hitting us full force. Gardening should not be so stressful!
When battling a drought, research and planning become even more important in our gardens. Choosing the appropriate plant materials is critical. We have to keep a plant's water requirements in mind. The less water necessary for a plant to survive, the better.
We need to make sure we are caring for our plants so they are in optimum condition. A plant under stress from other concerns, such as insects or disease, is more likely to succumb if water is lacking.
Tampa officials recently tightened water restrictions for residents. Unclear about the new rules? Visit the Tampa Water Department's Web site, www.tampagov.net/dept_water, on a regular basis to stay up-to-date.
Unincorporated Hillsborough County has its own restrictions. Check out the county's Web site, www.hillsboroughcounty.org/water/restrictions.
We all must continue to conserve and attempt to become even more water-thrifty in our gardening. Rain barrels and "reusing" water will help.
Look at hillsborough_fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/RainBarrels.html to sign up for a rain barrel class through the Hillsborough County Cooperative Extension Service. Clicking on "Rain Barrels" on the left side of the screen leads to instructions on how to construct one.
When it rains, the barrels fill and the water can drench the thirstier plants in your yard. These may include flowers or edible crops such as herbs and vegetables. This is also a good water source for containers.
My reusable water comes from my kitchen. When I boil or steam vegetables or eggs, I cool the water and then use it on my containers.
I haven't started this yet, but I know some people catch water from sink faucets and shower heads in a bucket while waiting for the hot water.
Plying soil with lots of organic matter is also a water conservation trick. A rich, organic soil holds more moisture than our native sand. Keep adding organic matter, and start a compost pile combining your yard and kitchen waste. But don't add meat, fat and bones.
If starting a compost pile seems untenable, bury vegetable and fruit waste in your yard. Just look for a bare spot, dig a hole about 8 or 10 inches deep and toss in kitchen scraps. Cover the hole, and you have easily added organic matter to your garden. If you have children, this is a good project for them.
This new healthy soil will encourage worms in your yard. These wriggly powerhouses add to the health of your soil, which leads to healthier plants that will be better prepared for drought stress.
Even without much water, having color in your landscape is still possible. The flower that stands out most in my yard right now is my broccoli. A packet full of seeds produced more plants than our family needed, so some bolted and are flowering. The bright yellow flowers have attracted many honeybees to the yard. I have a stalk on my desk and have received many compliments. People are surprised when I tell them it is broccoli. In the fall, I'll plant extra so I can enjoy the flowers.
I'll limit the flowers I add this spring because most take more water than shrubbery. If you are adding flowers, look for plants such as portulaca that can withstand dryness and will survive our summer heat and humidity. Don't forget rosemary. It has a good smell, flowers and can be used in the kitchen. It also requires little supplemental water.
Flowers that self-seed and come back season after season need less water. My Johnny-jump-ups and sunflowers that sprout on their own require no supplemental water and look great. They get a sprinkling when my weekly lawn irrigation takes place.
Whether you are affected by sprinkler use restrictions or not, consider converting to low-volume or drip-irrigation. Both use much less water and cover the plants more efficiently. Planning is necessary to get the best system possible, and it may be worth contacting a professional. Look for a discussion of this option in a future column.
For now, the important thing is to become aware of every drop of water we use in our landscape and concentrate on how to use less.