Are we overwatering our plants?

New project to study drought tolerance of landscape plants

SAN ANTONIO – Water conservation has made great strides, but now it seems scientists are ready to fine tune conservation, down to the last drop.

"There is some speculation that we're overwatering plants," said the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources' Dr. Calvin Finch, who is heading the study.

Yes, San Antonians may be giving their rose bushes a little too much love when it comes to watering. But, does it really make that much difference?  Finch believes so. 

"I think we could save half the water used on landscapes," he said.

It is a hypothesis that an outdoor drought simulator, located south of San Antonio, could prove or disprove. The experiment is set up to have four pods; all with the same amount and type of plants. One group will get no water, while the other three will get 20 percent, 40 percent, and 60 percent of potential evapotranspiration, respectively, to determine the actual amount of water they require to survive.  

Questions such as exactly how much water can these plants get by on and how well can they recover, will be answered.

The study, which has taken two years to plan, has been carefully put together. The drought simulator even has a moving, automatic roof that covers the plants should it rain. The plants chosen were voted to be the most popular plants in yards across south and central Texas.

"What we ended up doing was having some of our sponsors and horticulturists come to San Marcos and then deciding top 100 plant lists," said Amy Truong of the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, who is assisting in the study.

"A lot of cities are interested in it," added Finch.

The cities of Austin and Georgetown, along with San Antonio Water System and the San Antonio River Authority are funding the project. 

While the study should be completed in late summer, a comprehensive analysis of what is found in the study will be released early next year. 

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