Testing the Toughest Plants for Drought Tolerance

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A xeriscaped lawn. Photo courtesy of Gardening Volunteers of South Texas.

Courtesy photo

SAWS offers coupons to encourage customers to replace lawns with xeriscaped planting areas.

A nine-month drought of epic proportion begins Saturday. This one, however, is restricted to a small plot of land in southern San Antonio that the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR) uses for research. When the scientific findings become available about a year from now, they should be a boon to home and business owners who want lovely landscapes that require little or no watering.

Calvin Finch, Ph.D.

Calvin Finch, Ph.D.

“This project will tell the person who doesn’t want to use supplemental irrigation which plants can be used together to provide 12 months of color in a landscape,” said Calvin Finch, director of IRNR’s Urban Water Program in San Antonio.

Inside a drought simulator, volunteers armed with shovels are planting 1,600 popular landscape plants in four separate plots. Each plot will be subjected to varying levels of drought stress. The structure, built in 2006 by A & M, tested turfgrass’s ability to survive and recuperate from drought. It now will put to the test 100 of our most popular small trees, shrubs, perennials, vines, groundcovers and ornamental grasses.

Finch says his own yard contains “lots of plants I never water,” such as Texas mountain laurel, Texas persimmon, ceniza (Texas sage), cemetery iris, thryallis and esperanza. He and fellow researcher Raul Cabrera suspect the field study will show that many of the test plants can prosper on even less water than currently is recommended.

Project goal: learn how little water is necessary for landscape plants to survive and still look attractive. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Water System.

Project goal: learn how little water is necessary for landscape plants to survive and still look attractive. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Water System.

The Drought Survivability Study is funded by the San Antonio River Authority, the San Antonio Water System and the cities of Austin and Georgetown. Later this year a similar field study will be conducted in Georgetown, where a simulator is being built.

Saturday’s volunteers answered the call to plant from a variety of sources: viewers recruited by KSAT-TV meteorologist Steve Browne, Gardening Volunteers of South Texas, Bexar County Master Gardeners, listeners of KLUP-AM’s Gardening South Texas show, Ameri-Corps, and Texas A&M students.

A detailed report from Saturday’s planting will published Monday morning on the Rivard Report.

*Featured/top image: A xeriscaped lawn. Photo courtesy of Gardening Volunteers of South Texas.

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San Antonio Lawn Makeover:  Before Next Drought, Say Goodbye to Water Guzzling Grass

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