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Conservation = More Interest In Drought Resistant Plants

COLLIN COUNTY (CBS 11 NEWS) - As the North Texas drought continues its relentless years-long march, more people are turning to drought-resistant plants to decorate their yards.

Workers at a Collin County Agricultural Extension Agent say some blooming plants can exist on just one watering a year.

"A lot of plants out here, once they get blooming after the spring, will bloom all summer," explained Dr. Greg Church, a horticultural expert at the extension office.

Dr. Church seeks the horticulture Holy Grail --blooming plants that can sustain themselves through a brutal Texas summer.  "We estimate you can save between 70- and 95-percent of your water use in the landscape."

His test garden of perennials is at the Myers Park and Event Center in rural McKinney. The garden is part of a program called Earth Kind Environmental Stewardship. "It's an easy process, an easy system to learn," Church said. "There are not a lot of complicated parts to it, so it's easy for homeowners to adopt these practices.

Experts say the key to successfully growing drought-resistant plants is preparation. The plants require lots of compost when the soil is first turned, and then 3-inches of mulch forever.  The mulch not only traps moisture, Church says, "The top layer of the mulch can be 130-degrees, but the soil underneath is only 80-degrees -- so the plants are less stressed."

When the garden was sown in 2010 the plants had to be watered a standard amount in order to establish them.  But the plants were just watered once a year in 2011, 2012, and 2013 -- usually in the first week of August.

Well-mulched perennials can also withstand bitter freezes, according to Dr. Church.  "Late winter we'll actually trim off the top of the plant and then reapply the mulch to maintain a 3" layer of mulch."

There's even a test plot designed to push plants to extremes.  Not all of them survive; that's how workers gauge drought tolerance. Now Church is experimenting with annuals, which can be more colorful.

Nearby, at Shades of Green Landscaping, Tony Dennis says people are even working drought resistant plants into original landscape designs, as well as existing gardens.  "We have a lot of people that come in and look for designs. Some people that come in and just ask the sales people for help, and we can help them [design] at that point."

Dennis says customers realize they're in for a long haul.   "We're going to live here through a span of droughts here, at this point, 5-10 years maybe at this point, so I think people are starting to learn than 'I've got to buy plants that are drought tolerant.'"

Scarce water conditions are becoming a way of life, it's apparent as you drive around Collin County. It seems more homeowners and homeowners associations are getting the drought tolerance message.

Check out the following links for more information on the Earth Kind program -- Earth-Kind Landscaping and Collin County Master Gardeners.

There is also information here -- on the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for Collin County website.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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