Want to create a drought-tolerant garden? See a demonstration garden
Cactus and rocks.
Those aren’t the only items that can be used successfully in areas — such as Central Texas — that might face prolonged periods of dry weather.
“Drought-tolerant (gardens) can be beautiful,” says Dorothy Bentzin, a master gardener and co-chair of the drought-tolerant section of the Williamson County Master Gardeners’ demonstration gardens.
Visitors to the gardens, located at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Georgetown, can see and learn how “drought-tolerant” gardening can be done.
(The demonstration gardens also include raised bed and row vegetable gardens, a container garden, a rose garden, an herb garden, a fruit tree area and a keyhole garden, as well as “Texas A&M trial projects going on involving Earth-Kind techniques,” according to the website at https://txmg.org/williamson/.)
The demonstration gardens feature a colorful and robust drought-tolerant area with about 60 varieties of plants, says Jodie Beach, also a master gardener and co-chair of the drought-tolerant section.
“We want the public to come out here and see what you can do with drought-tolerant native and well-adapted plants that require less water and less care and less pesticides,” Beach says.
The large area shows off colorful flowers along a path of decomposed granite. A bench and water feature also adorn this section.
“There’s something always in bloom,” says Master Gardener Viki Strauss.
“Right now, all the ornamental grasses are blooming and are putting on a show,” Beach says, pointing out pink-hued Gulf Coast muhly. “Everybody wants that plant now. It has … fluffy pink blooms that blow in the wind.”
Geared for education, the drought-tolerant section has labels for most plants (such as “Texas Betony” and “Blackfoot Daisy”). Also, interspersed in the garden are stacked stones, created by another master gardener. In varying arrangements, some are stacked up about knee- to waist-high.
Beach said maintenance of the section is fairly simple, including about five workdays each year. Also, “we mulch once a year. We weed, cut back and replace anything,” Beach says. “We keep an eye on the irrigation system.” The plants are watered via drip irrigation twice a week, each time for 15 minutes in the winter and 30 minutes in the summer, she says. However, she added, “There are quite a few plants out here with no irrigation.”
Drought-tolerant gardening was the topic of an October workshop, including a tour, led by Beach. About 35 people attended, she says.
“Does it have to look like cactus and rocks?” was a common question among participants, Beach says. “A lot of people want to know what takes less water, less care.”
Overall, having a successful drought-tolerant garden “isn’t as work-intensive as the vegetable garden,” says Master Gardener Della Owen.
As well, “A lot of people want to know what attracts butterflies,” Bentzin says, on a recent day when numerous butterflies flitted around the garden.
“A thriving, drought-tolerant garden is not difficult,” Beach says. “Why struggle with things (plants) that aren’t happy here when there are so many that are happy here. If you start with something that’s happy here, it is so much easier,” she says.
“The main problem I think people are going to have — until they learn — with a drought-tolerant garden is they will overwater it,” she says. “That will kill these plants faster than anything.”
Autumn is the best time to plant, Beach says, because then the plants “have a chance to get established before they face that blast of heat” in the summer.
A good resource for identifying plants that have low water requirements is the “Native and Adapted Landscape Plants: an Earthwise Guide for Central Texas,” which is available for free at local places such as nurseries, she says.
The demonstration gardens are located at 3151 SE Inner Loop, Georgetown.