With winter long behind us, many Texans were eager to start laying out their plan for a landscape or refreshing their current beds.
Or, you may not relish the idea of spending an entire day at your local lawn and garden store trying to decide which products will work best for your plants.
But both beginner and expert gardeners alike can make one choice this spring that will benefit their landscape and help conserve water.
Mulch, a combination of materials that is spread across soil as a covering, can become your best friend during drought. A layer of mulch can keep the water from evaporating before it is absorbed by the roots. Mulch also keeps the roots cool and helps control weeds that compete with plants for water, which is ideal for drought conditions.
With high heat and low precipitation levels, Texas' drought conditions have continued to expand and will continue to increase in the drought category this spring and summer. By applying a 4-inch layer of mulch over the soil surface, you can protect all your hard work and water resources from the drought's harsh effects.
But when should you incorporate mulch into your landscaping plans? The best time to mulch is now. Mulching before the summer heat sets in results in considerable water conservation, which helps your wallet and Texas' water resources.
There are both organic and inorganic mulches available for purchase. Inorganic mulches include non-plant materials, while organic mulch includes straw, compost, sawdust, and other similar materials.
And you can purchase mulch right here in the Brazos River basin!
A partnership between the cities of Temple and Belton and the Brazos River Authority has provided Tri-Gro mulch and compost to those who live in the central part of the Brazos River basin since 1990.
Biosolids from the Temple-Belton Regional Wastewater System facility are combined with wood products from brush, limbs, and trees collected by the cities to create both compost and mulch products. By using both products, the need for additional landfill space is significantly reduced.
Tri-Gro mulch has the same benefits as store-bought mulch. It improves the appearance of flowerbeds, helps reduce weed growth, decreases soil temperatures during hotter weather, insulates plants when temperatures are cooler, and provides a quality walking surface on paths. And because it's carefully processed at temperatures higher than 133° Fahrenheit (55° Centigrade), it is free of weed seeds, plant diseases, and pathogens.
It's important to note that Tri-Gro is "a treated sludge product," which meets the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requirements for use as a soil conditioner and organic fertilizer. However, the products should not be used on crops intended for human consumption.
Currently, the Temple-Belton Wastewater Treatment Plant is selling native wood mulch and cull, with the mulch selling at $4.33 per cubic yard and the cull selling at $8.66 per cubic yard.
Compost is another great method to help your garden grow while preserving your local water source's quality. Compared to most store fertilizers, compost is a more organic alternative to replenishing your soil's nutrients.
But what is compost? According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, compost is "organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow."
Compost requires three ingredients:
- Browns (dead leaves, twigs, etc.)
- Greens (grass clippings, coffee grounds, etc.)
Compost has the unique ability to replenish organic matter within soil, slowly releasing nitrogen while positively affecting soil nutrient levels. While compost-generated nitrogen is released slowly over a couple of years, standard commercial fertilizers release nitrogen immediately and fade within a year. Compost makes the nitrogen available to your plants for an extended period by releasing slowly. Compost also balances out the soil's pH levels, which is beneficial for both sandy and clay soils.
In addition to its soil benefits, compost will save water and money! The materials are better for local water quality and conservation than fertilizer. If you apply too much fertilizer when gardening, heavy rain or over-watering can send excess fertilizer into local storm drains, then into streams, rivers, and lakes, and ultimately into our drinking water.
Compost also improves moisture retention in the soil, which decreases the need to water frequently. According to Take Care of Texas, compost reduces water usage by up to 60%.
Currently, screened and unscreened compost products are not being sold at the Temple-Belton Wastewater plant. However, the expectation is to have compost available by late June 2022.
For more information about Tri-Gro compost and mulch at the Temple-Belton Wastewater Treatment Plant, click here.