Landscape Choices in Droughty Country
Texas Our Texas
One of a Series
By Russell Graves
Field Correspondent, sportsandoutdoors.guru
CHILDRESS — It’s been a while since I wrote anything about my house build but things have progressed: albeit slowly. The good news is the house is finished. For the past two years, we’ve enjoyed living in our farm-style home just north of Childress, here on Texas’ rolling plains.
The house has everything we wanted: a small footprint, open design, out in the country but not too far from town. Above all we have great neighbors right down the county road and it is a place where my kids spend as much time outdoors as they do inside.
Since 2011, however, Childress (like the rest of Texas) was under a severe drought. With the drought came water restrictions and with the restrictions came the inability to water enough to establish a landscape. Therefore, my thoughts turned to drought resistant plants.
A year after we moved in, the landscape was still in limbo. All of the construction traffic had the soil in the front yard compacted and unable to grow anything. Since the soil is the foundation of all that grows, I had to get a handle on the problems therein.
With a chisel plow, I began the arduous process of ripping the soil and hoping for rain. In the late spring of 2014, the rain began to fall. Hindsight is 20/20 but I should have planted grass last spring. Since the rain has been scant here for four years I didn’t want to spend the money on planting grass seed. So throughout the summer of 2014, I just tended the soil.
In September of last year, I spent $40 on a bag of annual ryegrass seed and after plowing the yard one last time, I broadcast the seed and used an old harrow to drag the soil. Again the rain fell and a couple of weeks later, I had a good stand of grass in the yard.
Ryegrass is a cool season plant that grows well in the fall, goes a bit dormant during the cold months of winter, and then comes back vigorously in the spring. It has an aggressive root system that breaks up subsurface hardpan and while the grass was doing its thing below, above ground the cover was slowing the rainfall and letting it soak in and improve the soil moisture in a way that hasn’t been seen in a few years.
Come spring, I was ready to complete the landscaping. Although I now have a well and can water at will despite water restrictions, I still wanted to be a good steward and plant grasses and ornamentals that were native and could thrive in our semi-arid climate.
So for the lawn, I opted for a buffalo grass/blue grama mix. Both grasses are native to the area, do well with little water, and can withstand our fickle weather. To plant the grass I used a Classen Turf Overseeder. The Classen is like a self propelled, no-till seed drill that lets you plant seeds without preparing the seedbed. In other words, I left the ryegrass in place and planted the new, permanent turf seed into the existing grass stand.
The existing ryegrass provides thermal and moisture protection for the new seeds and hopefully, will help the new yard get off to a good start. With abundant moisture this spring, I am optimistic.
In the beds, I opted for a variety of plants including prickly pear, red yucca, verbena, coreopsis, and lantana. All are plants that are drought and heat tolerant and should do well. To figure out their placement, I hired a landscape designer to provide some aesthetic guidance.
Rainfall can make even the worst gardener look good. So far this spring, I look like I’m a pro.