A nozzle on a hose watering the base of a tree. The person wears a maroon shirt but nothing but hands and arms are visible.
Water stress can happen with both too much and too little rain. People in drought-stricken areas should prioritize the most important plants in their gardens. (Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M AgriLife)

Texas gardens are often water stressed, plagued by too much or too little rain.

Ironically, the symptoms of too much and not enough water in your garden are often the same – sad looking plants with droopy leaves, said Larry Stein, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulture specialist at Uvalde and professor in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Horticultural Sciences.

Either water extreme can kill your plants. Standing water and saturated soil deprive a plant’s roots of oxygen. If there is not enough water, the plant will stop sending water from the roots up to the leaves.

Reduce water stress for plants

Whether it is supplemental irrigation to key plants or creating critical drainage, Stein said gardeners can help plants survive times of water stress.

When the issue is too much rain, plants in pots can be brought under eaves and placed in sheltered areas or protective domes can be used over flower beds.

But the best way to deal with too much rain is to address the situation before it happens. Make sure your soil is well-draining. When creating raised beds, ensure you are using the right type of soil. Well-drained soil allows water to percolate through it and not pool.

A flooded road outside a green pasture
While parts of the state struggle with a lack of rain, others have been experiencing more than the ground can handle in many places. (Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife)

At the other extreme, exceedingly dry conditions can push valued landscape plants including trees to the brink.

“Sad to say, but the places not getting rain are getting desperately dry, and if things don’t change soon, more plants are going to die,” Stein said. “If you are in this dire situation, remember to concentrate water on your most critical plants.”

During droughts and in the hotter regions of the state, supplemental irrigation is essential for all but the hardiest plants. Stein said to water lawns and gardens thoroughly, but not too frequently, and try to soak to a depth of 6-12 inches. Because continual watering is not good for plants, is costly and time-consuming, it pays to conserve the moisture around plants.

Stein said preserving moisture is best done by mulching. A good mulch will retain valuable moisture needed for plant growth and improve overall gardening success. Mulches are usually applied 2-6 inches deep, depending on the material used. In general, the coarser the material, the deeper the mulch should be.

Removing competition for water can also help your plants. Make sure to hand-pull or hoe weeds before they mature and produce seed; if weeds aren’t robbing water and nutrients, more will be available for the plants you want to see grow.

Top garden tips for June

Eggplants still on the vine. One is dark purple while the other is still white.
Eggplants should be harvested when ready. Don’t sacrifice taste for an increase in size. (Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M AgriLife)
  • Many of your vegetable crops will reach peak production this month; harvest often to prevent them from becoming overly large and sacrificing taste for size. Crops in their prime include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and squash, and fruit crops of peaches and blackberries.
  • Check watermelons for ripeness regularly. They are usually ready when the bottom portion turns yellow-green or yellow.
  • Now is the time to plan for next spring. Consider digging and dividing any crowded spring bulbs. Once the bulbs have matured and the foliage has turned brown, it is time to spade them up and thin out the stand. Crowded bulbs produce fewer and smaller blooms and usually need thinning every 3 to 4 years. June is also the time to select daylily varieties as they reach their peak of bloom.
  • Reblooming salvias along with other perennials such as esperanza and vitex should be pruned back periodically during the summer. To make the job easier, use hedging shears and remove only the spent flowers and a few inches of stem below.
  • Fall-blooming perennials such as chrysanthemums, physostegias, Mexican bush sage and Mexican marigold mint should be pruned in the same manner during the summer to keep them compact, reducing the need for staking. This pruning can be done now and should be completed prior to Sept. 1 since flower buds begin forming about that time.
  • House plants can be moved outdoors this month. Sink the pots in a cool, shaded garden bed to prevent them from drying out so quickly; water pots, container plants and hanging baskets often. Monthly feedings with house plant fertilizer will encourage continued growth. Be especially careful to keep them out of direct sunlight.
  • Check for insects and diseases. Spider mites can be especially troublesome at this time. Select a chemical or organic control or use insecticidal soap. If the infestation is more severe, the best bet is to destroy the plants.
  • Fertilize roses every four to six weeks. Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer immediately after a flush of bloom. Continue to spray susceptible roses with fungicides with black spot control every seven to 10 days.

Color combinations and inspiration

A large Gold Star Esperanza plant with yellow flowers
Gold Star Esperanza does well in the Texas heat. (Yvonne Schneider/Texas A&M AgriLife)

Stein said gardeners looking to add pops of color to their gardens heading into summer may want to consider Gold Star Esperanza and Pride of Barbados plants.

“The yellow of Gold Star Esperanza, along with the brilliant orange of Pride of Barbados, will assure a dazzling floral display all summer,” Stein said.

Stein said there are many varieties of esperanza on the market, but only one gets a “gold star” in his gardening book. When you purchase Gold Star Esperanza, it should be blooming in the container — even if only in a gallon container. 

“Some of the other esperanzas on the market take forever and a day to bloom and grow to be massive plants devoid of blooms for most of the summer,” he said. “Gold Star is a reliable perennial and will come back most years. It tends to make fewer seed heads than others as well, but the simple removal of any seed pods will assure continued blooming all summer.”

A Pride of Barbados, a red and yellow plant, that can survive water stress well.
In addition to bringing bright colors to your garden, Pride of Barbados plants are also a favorite of butterflies. (Texas A&M AgriLife)

Stein said Pride of Barbados thrives in hot weather. It can come back most years but can also be established with seed. He said the removal of the seedpods will ensure blooms all summer.

Both plants are designated Texas Superstar and can be grown throughout Texas. Pride of Barbados is also a favorite of pollinators. By blooming throughout the summer, it can provide a reliable food source for butterflies.

For more pops of color, Stein said there is still time to plant some of the heat-tolerant summer annuals.

“You can direct-seed zinnias and portulaca and purchase periwinkle, salvia, marigold and purslane plants for transplanting,” he said. “But be sure to water transplants adequately until roots become established.”

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