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One of the biggest reasons that it can be difficult to garden in Texas is our hot summers. Plants struggle to live through 100-plus temperatures. Many vegetables and flowers cannot produce well if there is no break in the heat.

Places like Utah and Colorado may be hot during the day but cool off at night. Because of this they can produce certain vegetables like tomatoes that need some time during a 24-hour period to rest from the heat.

Our lawns tend to struggle also. One reason for this is the some mistakes we make when watering, as we will discuss later. Since water is our No. 1 weapon in the fight for our gardens and lawn areas, we must learn how to use it productively. We also need several other weapons in our arsenal to use against the Texas heat.

If you are growing a garden bed or a lawn area and you don’t have good soil, your battle will be bigger and more difficult. Often in Texas we have very shallow soils with a layer of rock underneath. Do whatever you can to add good soil to your lawn areas.

This is a difficult goal to achieve. Many of us moved to our current homes and inherited the poor soil from when the house was built or previously owned. If you can afford the money or the labor involved, you can re-till your lawn area to add better soil and break up some of the solid rock underneath.

As you might imagine, this can be a massive job. If you have suffered from poor lawns you may first try the watering techniques that we will cover below to see if the positive changes will be enough to solve most of your problems.

You may also want to cut back on the size of your lawn, eliminating any areas that have been particularly stressed in the past. These areas can be replaced with something else. Many groundcovers will do better than lawn grasses, thus giving you a lower-care area to maintain.

Try an area of liriope, which will never need to be mowed and will seldom need to be watered. You can surround this section of your landscape with decorative river rocks, gravel or even mulch to provide a division between the groundcover and the lawn area.

Watering Correctly

The most important thing that you must do is to water correctly. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Choose the coolest time of the day to water. The perfect time would be about 4 in the morning. If you have a programmable water system, set it to start watering at this time.

This accomplishes two important things. One, the water will not evaporate as quickly and thus soak into the soil. And secondly, since you will still have most of the day left after you have watered, moisture will not stay on the leaves and feed diseases with the moisture they need to survive.

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2. Water only once a week until the very hottest time of the year when temperatures soar. Water an area deeply, then make the grass wait until the next week for more. If it is that hottest time when temperatures top in the 100s, you can water twice a week, but be sure you water deeply those two times.

Shallow watering in your yard or garden beds will encourage your plants to grow shallow roots that will dry out quickly after the watering is finished. This is bad for every plant in your landscape.

3. Watch for runoff. If an area is not getting all the water you intended to give it because some of the water is running downhill away from the area, turn off the water and let the water absorb completely into the soil, then repeat the watering that same day again so the area gets all the water it needs.

Mowing Advice

There is one more thing that will help your lawn that is not related to watering but is still very important. Do not cut off more than one-third of the grass blades in one mowing.

For me, this means that my lawn man must come and mow once a week even if the grass doesn’t look like it needs it. This will help your lawn to grow thick and avoid the shock of too much grass area being suddenly cut off.

It is also a great deterrent to weeds. They hate being mowed that often. I never have to treat my lawn for weeds. The frequent mowing does the job all by itself. Don’t rake up the trimmings after mowing because the grass is a good source of free nitrogen for the lawn.

Mow your lawn at the correct height. St. Augustine grass should be mowed to stand 3 to 4 inches tall, while Bermuda can be cut at 1 to 3 inches. Adjust the mower blades to mow at the higher setting in the hottest part of the year.

The rule of watering infrequently but deeply also applies to your garden beds. The health of plants is partly (and essentially) determined by the health of the roots. Shallow, burned-up roots is often the death of your plants. So are overwatered, soggy roots struggling to breathe while the gardener tries to save them by pouring on more and more water.

Follow these steps and your plants will benefit greatly during the hot days of our Texas summers.

Melody Fitzgerald is a McLennan County Master Gardener who has spent more than 35 years facing the challenges of Central Texas gardening.

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