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Monday, May 2, 2011

Drought in Texas Means No Wildflowers

purple verbena in front yard

April is the month for Texas wildflowers, and the Hill Country is usually the best place to see them.  But this year the wildflowers are practically nonexistent.  A couple of Sundays ago, we drove through Bandera (the “Cowboy Capital of the World”), and on through Vanderpool and finally to Concan, near the Frio River.  Normally, we would have seen fields upon fields of wildflowers, especially bluebonnets.  But this year all we saw were straggly clumps of yellow blooms here and there, plus the ubiquitous bull nettle.  When the most common flower you see is attached to a bull nettle, you know it’s a bad year for flowers. 
Bull nettles create a white, cottony flower, but they also sting like the dickens if you touch one.  The other day, while I was walking through some brush near our house (returning the next-door neighbor’s dog--I spotted him frolicking about in front of our house), I felt a sudden flash of pain on my ankle.  First I checked for fang marks.  Happily, it wasn’t a snake bite, just a bull nettle.
Why are there no wildflowers this year?  Because we are in the middle of a drought.  We haven’t had any rain in weeks, maybe more.  In San Antonio they’ve started Stage 1 watering restrictions, which means residents can water only one day a week, according to their address number.  Every night, local newscasters grimly report the current level of the St. Edwards Aquifer.  The aquifer is a spring-fed, underground honeycomb of rock that supplies water to San Antonio and other areas.  When it falls below 660 feet, water conversation measures kick in. 
We’re under a different water system in Bulverde.  The main thing that discourages excessive water use around here is the high cost of water.  The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority outright admitted that they set water prices high in order to control water use.  Which makes sense and is fine with me. 
gold lantana in front yard

indigo spires
  So what do we do about our yards?  For one thing, homeowners are supposed to cultivate only a fraction of their property and leave the rest in its natural state.  And if you have any sense, you’ll xeriscape the cultivated part.  Otherwise, everything will wilt and die unless you spend a fortune on watering.   Xeriscaping doesn’t mean a barren landscape of cactus and rock, either.  We have exuberantly blooming plants like lantana, plumbago, and esperanza.    For the lawn, we planted zoysia grass.  It requires much less water than other grasses like Bermuda or, God forbid, that water guzzler, St. Augustine.  (See attached photos of xeriscape plants in our yard.)
We also have to consider deer when we choose plants.  Plant nurseries are careful to explain that there is no such thing as a “deer proof” plant, only plants that are “deer-resistant.”  If a deer gets hungry enough, it’ll eat just about anything.  James had a spineless cactus in the front yard that he was especially fond of, but so were the deer.  We tried everything to keep them away, including a motion-activated water sprayer.  Unfortunately, any person who approached the house was also startled with a jet of cold water.  Finally, James dug up the cactus and moved it to the back yard. 
We don’t have to worry about deer in the back yard.  The intermittent presence of our old dogs (they prefer the air-conditioned comfort of the house), even with their failing eyesight and hearing, discourages the deer. 
Last night a cold front came in.  Suddenly our 90-plus temperatures fell to the low 50’s.  This cold front is supposed to herald rain.  We, and I speak for most of the state, are breathlessly waiting and hoping for rain.  Maybe I’ll go outside and do a little rain dance.  I wonder if belly dance would work for that.

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