‘ Fire Wise’ landscaping discussed |

Homeowners had the opportunity to learn more about a variety of horticulture related topics last during a recent special event hosted by the Kerr County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Hill Country Master Gardeners at the Hill Country Youth Event Center.

Participants heard presentations on rainwater harvesting, Oak Wilt, landscaping with “fire wise” plants, and turfgrass management, plus received an educational tour of the Hill Country Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden.

Rainwater Harvesting

Anne Brown, a master gardener, presented information on rainwater harvesting systems and how to catch rainwater and what to do with it.

“The projected population growth in Texas will impact the supply of available water in the years to come,” Brown said.

In a graph she provided, the population in Texas at 29.1 million in 2020 is expected to increase to 45.6 million by 2060. The available water supply in 2020 was estimated at 16.9 million acre-feet and the projected supply will decrease to 14.6 million acre- feet by 2060.

“There are only three things certain in Texas: Death, Taxes, and another Drought,” Brown said, “so conservation is the easiest and cheapest way to make our water use sustainable.”

Statistics show that Texans use between 8-9 billion gallons of water per day. The underground aquifers that supply much of the domestic water supplies statewide are recharged at a rate of 4-5 billion gallons per day.

Texas is currently in a drought with most of Kerr County currently under the worst category of “Exceptional Drought.” The last drought was in 2011 when the Guadalupe River reached very low levels and area creeks and tributaries ran dry.

Kerr County has an average rainfall of 32 inches, Brown said, but that doesn’t really help to know since that means some years we get 12 inches and some years 40 inches.

Brown advocates, when practical and possible, for homeowners to install a rainwater catchment system. Homes and buildings that have metal roofs have the most success in collecting rainwater but systems can be installed on any kind of roof.

“On a 2,000 square foot roof with a one-inch rain you can collect up to 1,200 gallons of water,” Brown explained, “and in a year with 30 inches of rain you can collect up to 36,000 gallons of rainwater.”

The water can be used for drip irrigation systems, gardens, wildlife and livestock water, sprayer tanks, sprinklers-with pressure and as non-potable (not drinking) water in homes and other facilities.

“You can also retrofit your house to do rainwater harvesting,” Brown added.

In 2003 the Texas Legislature in HB 645 passed laws that prevent homeowner associations from implementing new covenants banning outdoor water-conserving measures including composting, water efficient landscapes, drip irrigation systems and rainwater harvesting installations. HOA’s can require screening or shielding to obscure views of the tanks.

In the 2007 legislative session the state required every new state building to incorporate rainwater harvesting or one of several other technologies (unless it is impractical to do) and colleges and universities in Texas are also required to develop curricula on those technologies to prepare for the needed workforce of the future.

The Upper Guadalupe River Authority provides a 50 percent rebate on the installation costs of a rainwater collection system if you are a resident of Kerr County.

Rain barrels and installation equipment can be purchased at most home improvement stores for do-it-yourselfers. Rain barrels can also be purchased through the Hill Country Master Gardeners.

You can also get documentation from the master gardeners to take with you to make your purchases tax-exempt.

More information about rainwater harvesting can be found at www.tceq.state.tx.us/publications or http://rainwaterharvesting.tamu. edu.

Firewise Landscaping

Anne Brown, Hill Country Master Gardener, presented information to protect your home from wildfire damage using good landscaping techniques.

“97 percent of land in Texas is owned privately,” Brown said, “so protecting your home from wildfires is your responsibility.”

Brown said according to the Texas Forest Service more than 2,000 acres burned in Kerr County during the 2011 drought and this year’s drought makes the danger even more important to understand and, if possible, to take action to prevent damage to your property.

Unfortunately use of any yard equipment that can create a spark makes it difficult now to take action. Chainsaws, lawnmowers, weedwhackers, welding machines and other equipment can cause fires, in addition to cigarette butts cast from cars and catalytic converters on vehicles. Burning brush or trash is also a major cause of fires in Kerr County. Right now a countywide burn ban is in effect since the drought is predicted to last through the month of July, at least.

The Texas Forest Service makes several recommendations to prevent home damage from wildfires, including creating a 30 foot critical safe area around your house where trees or plants that burn easily are removed.

“You need to use low-growing, well-spaced shrubs with high moisture content and be sure you provide access for the fire department to get to your house if you need them,” Brown added.

She advised not to plant anything that has “oil” in the plant itself. Mountain Laurel and Rosemary are popular for planting near the house but, Brown warned, both are highly flammable.

Brown also stressed that trees, particularly oak trees, should not be trimmed from February to June when they are putting on leaves, unless in an emergency. If trimmed, the trimmed area should be painted immediately to prevent beetles carrying the oak wilt fungus from invading the tree.

The Hill Country Master Gardeners will provide a free home audit to advise you if you need to make changes, according to Brown. They can also provide information on the types of trees and plants best suited for the Hill Country.

For more information go to www.hillcountrymastergardeners.org or contact the Kerr County AgriLife office at (830) 257-6558.

Oak Wilt

Anyone who has lived in Kerr County or much of North or Central Texas is familiar with Oak Wilt. Oak Wilt is caused by a fungus and is passed from tree to tree through the underground vascular system (roots) or by beetles carrying the fungal spores from fungal mats on trees or from the fresh cuts that have not been painted. The beetles are attracted to the fresh wounds on the trees.

Erin Davis with the Texas Forest Service discussed Oak Wilt identification, prevention and management options during Thursday’s horticulture workshop. Davis has been working in Kerr County for the past five years.

“80 percent of my work is Oak Wilt related this year,” Davis said, “including site visits made to evaluate for property owners.”

Davis said the primary factors that impact the incidence of Oak Wilt in Kerr County are drought and damage done to the tree during construction projects. Davis also stressed that oak trees should not be trimmed from February to June when they are putting on new growth and when they are most susceptible to the beetle infestation.

“You can take a perfectly healthy tree, infest it and kill it. The fungus plugs the vessels in the trees (roots) and then they cannot get water,” Davis said.

Oak Wilt was first identified in Dallas County in 1961 and has spread throughout the state in a strip that includes the Hill Country. Firewood transported to other parts of the state have also spread the fungus.

“All oaks are, to some degree, susceptible to wilt but red oak, white oak and live oak species are the most vulnerable,” Davis said.

Species of red oak include Spanish oak and blackjack oak that are scattered throughout this area in addition to the live oak. Fungal mats only occur on the red oaks, not on live oaks, according to Davis.

Oak Wilt can pass tree to tree through the roots for up to 75 feet per year and moves faster in wet years and slower in dry years.

There is no sure cure for Oak Wilt. It can only be managed.

“Anytime you trim you should cut, paint, cut, paint,” Davis said, “any paint will do. Beetle activity is highest from February to June but they are active year-around. That’s the reason to always paint.”

Davis advised to never use red oak as firewood because it is so infected. She advised to burn in a debris pile (if there’s no burn ban) or chip into mulch as soon as possible to kill the fungal mats.

“Do not store it and do not travel with it,” she said. “That’s how it was spread to places like Lubbock and Amarillo.”

“Live oak is okay to burn because it does not have fungal mats.”

She also advised to always buy local dry firewood and to plant other types of trees (not more oaks) in areas where firewood is removed.

“Use native trees that are adapted to local conditions,” Davis said, “because we found out species like Monterey oak (Mexican white oak) didn’t weather well during Winter Storm Uri.”

Monterrey oaks are native only to Val Verde County (Del Rio area) but have been very popular in new subdivision landscaping in the Hill Country in recent years.

“Plant trees in the fall…plant a variety of trees, not just one type of tree.”

Oak Wilt can be treated if caught early enough with fungicide injections, according to Davis, but don’t expect to save a tree that is already infected. She added that although the treatment is expensive, it can sometimes be cheaper than having someone remove the tree. She said forest service personnel like her are available to help identify good candidates for treatment and set up a treatment plan for property owners.

Davis also advised treatment can be effective if not more than 30 percent of the tree is infected…above that amount is not always treatable. The cost to treat with injections is about $15 per inch of diameter of the tree.

“You have to have realistic expectations.”

When quizzed about ball moss, common to oak trees in this area, Davis said that ball moss is not a parasite like mistletoe or other growths on trees.

“Pruning the dead wood or just removing the ball moss works, but there is a chemical treatment (Kocide 101) that can be used to kill the ball moss, but getting rid of it is mostly for esthetic reasons.”

Questions can be directed to Davis at edavis@tfs.tamu.edu or call (830) 792-8885 or information from www.texasoakwilt.org.

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