Irrigation SNAFU

You can’t pick your neighbors.  

A pithy statement, to be sure.  While it might be true, another saying I’d like to introduce–Friends don’t let friends over water–also appeals to me.  I don’t live in a neighborhood that is particularly, um, progressive in the realm of home gardening. Especially for  a neighborhood in a region which is experiencing severe drought conditions.  Each of the mostly sterile, water-wasting landscapes throughout my neighborhood showcases a blank slate of water-guzzling St. Augustine lawn as the major “garden” feature and many are situated in full Texas sun. These properties require loads of mowing, edging, fertilizing, and irrigating.

There are a couple of folks who understand the value of home gardening and landscaping as a low-maintenance, water-conserving, perennial and wildlife friendly endeavor, but not many.

And I don’t live next door to either of those folks.

This is the result of over watering a Soft-leaf Yucca,Yucca recurvifolia, compliments of a neighbor who is an enthusiastic St. Augustine lawn waterer.

Beginning in early August, this poor thing developed spots on its straps, which quickly spread, rendering each strap a mottled mess, which then died.  I couldn’t figure out what the cause of the diseased foliage was, but I pruned the disfigured and dying foliage, strap by strap.

Damage from an insect infestation?  I searched and couldn’t find any offenders. Some sort of disease of Soft-leaf Yucca?    Always a possibility, though literature doesn’t suggest this species has any real disease problems.  Additionally,  I have eight other Soft-leaf Yucca plants thriving in my gardens, from full sun,

…to deep shade,

…and everything in between.

There were and are no disease issues with any of those other yuccas.   The only variable with the sickly yucca that differed from the others was the weekly irrigation courtesy of  the neighbor.  I don’t water often–primarily my gardens are watered only with rain.  I pruned the mottled and dead foliage in hopes of stopping the necrosis and eventually the yucca sported a tree-like shape which was fun and quirky. I thought the yucca might survive.


One morning though, I  found a rotted and toppled-over


Well, there wasn’t much I could do, except to cut my losses, or rather, the yucca, toss the mess into the yard waste can and stand there, hands on hips mulling my next step.  I considered digging up the whole root, but alas, the yucca root is too large for that.  Of course it is.  It’s a xeric plant and its xeric-ness comes from the massive root system, really a type of rhizome, that the mature plant develops.  Also, there were pups growing,

…and rather than disturb them, I left the yucca root in place with its new, seemingly healthy growth.

My neighbor, Mr. I-Gotta-Water-Every-Week-No-Matter-What, watered his St. Augustine grass.  Every week!  You could set your clock by his schedule. I couldn’t really complain because he watered on his assigned day, during the accepted hours, and though more water than necessary ran down the curb, it wasn’t horrible. Trust me, I’ve seen worse.   What I didn’t realize during those months was that the yucca was probably watered every week. I never thought to check if his overhead sprinkler was watering my garden, which borders his property.  Because of its massive root, the yucca doesn’t require much irrigation.  Once I connected the rotted yucca with weekly summer irrigation, I realized the cause of the once-healthy yucca’s demise. The hardy Soft-leaf Yucca had received much too much water for its needs.

I should add that Y. recurvifolia is not native to Texas, but to the Southeastern part of the U.S.  I doesn’t mind a little irrigation from time-to-time, but certainly doesn’t like wet feet or require regular watering.

That’s why I plant what I plant–so that I don’t need to water often.  There are many benefits to using native and well-adapted, drought-tolerant plants in a home garden, and conserving water is certainly at or near the top of that list. But the prevalence of St. Augustine grass, especially in full sun and as a primary landscape feature, is not a regionally appropriate choice for Texas.  To look good, it requires more water than should be wasted on a landscape.

I left the little pups that were emerging,

…and they’ve grown.  I’ll talk to my neighbor next summer to explain why I don’t want extra water on my garden.  With our lakes (the prime water source for Austin and surrounding areas) down to about 30% capacity and heading toward a historic low, he might not be able to water anyway because of tighter water restrictions.

His grass will struggle with those restrictions, but my gardens will continue to blossom and boom.

And my yuccas and other xeric plants, will be happy.

13 thoughts on “Irrigation SNAFU

  1. I realize you are using xeric plants and I believe you when you say you don’t water supplementally but that last shot sure looks, well, lush and wet! That is such a gorgeous shot of your water feature. It would probably upend some folks’ misperceptions of what xeric gardening looks like.

    What a shame about your yucca! As you say, tightening restrictions might take care of the problem for you, but perhaps you’ll investigate native plants that require a little extra water to thrive and put those in your bordering areas, to be able to use the “extra” watering without damage? I’ve got bermuda coming in from a neighbor’s lot that he and I both struggle with, but since he has lawn and I have garden beds, well, you can guess which side of the “line” between us looks messier due to the bermuda regrowing there… (grrrrrrr).


    • Hah! That’s why I picked that last shot. It was taken in summer and all of those plants require little, if any, supplemental water. It can be done!! And I wanted to include a shot of the pond, because it is a feature that is perfectly attuned to the xeric method. A water-wise garden can be, but isn’t necessarily, spiky plants and rocks.

      I’m okay with the yucca–more annoyed that it took me so long to figure out what was going on than anything else. The new pups are growing quite quickly. The rest of the garden, as you suggest, are plants that will not mind extra water–I’m not concerned about them at all. The neighbor will be cool, once I point out what
      happened. He’s garden clueless, but not an ogre. Funnily, I have the same bermudagrass problem.


  2. We are firm believers in wild gardening and only intervening when it looks like something is really struggling. I really had to chuckle at your remarks about your neighbor and his lawn. My husband and I were just laughing over ours–pitted with tiny little holes from where the squirrels and birds have cached nuts for winter. Your neighbor would love that!


    • That is funny and yeah, and he hates squirrels. And loud birds.

      I still shake my head that the paradigm for “beautiful home garden” is an expanse of lawn–I don’t get it. The thing is that the lawns most of these people have aren’t even all that attractive–unless they’ve been soaked with water which is just not okay here in sunny, hot Texas.


  3. I truly wish St. Augustine would become a “forbidden fruit” in Texas. All outside watering became illegal here when our lakes reached 30%. Prior to that folks were allowed to water their lawns once a week, in the wee hours of the morning, between certain hours. I think the people with St. Augustine made up the majority of those who watered at that time. Water from the sprinkler systems of several neighbors with St. Augustine RAN past our curb. Even on days when no watering was allowed! (Folks think they’re so sneaky.) With NO outside watering, some folks in town have had wells dug so they can still water their lawns. With our lakes at 22%, why are people worrying about their grass!!! Of course they haven’t thought ahead far enough to realize that the water supply they’re using up now might be part of our future drinking supply if we don’t get a gully-washer soon. We haven’t used a sprinkler to water anything in over two years. Someday I hope to have everything covered with water-wise plants! We’re in the same shape as mylatinnotebook above — our yard is covered with squirrel holes, bird-bathing holes and leaves!


    • I couldn’t agree with you more!! Banning of water-wasting turf is happening in other parts of the country–I don’t know what it’s going to take for it to happen here. Sadly, we lack the leadership (state and local) to promote the conservation of our limited water sources and natural areas. Additionally, we’re encouraging masses of people to move here, to build in unfettered ways, and with no real plan for what it will do to our beautiful state. Sniff.

      You’re in Wichita Falls–man-o-man do you know about drought. Unfortunately, we’re not learning from you guys. I wish you rain, lots of rain, in the coming months.

      You’re right about the sneakiness of people. I see the same thing here in Austin. There are certain Austinites who’ve also dug wells so they can water their grass. It must be some sort of addiction that the AMA hasn’t identified yet. 🙂

      If our outdoor watering is banned (which will probably happen within the year), those lawns are going to crap out. Even I might lose a few things, though
      everything I grow is tough and my soil is fairly good..


  4. I don’t understand the appeal of large expanses of grass with no landscaping plants. It’s such a sterile environment–both visually and for wildlife value. Sorry to hear about your Yucca plant, but it sounds like the pups will survive. Believe it or not, we have Yuccas here in Wisconsin, too, but they seem to prefer dry prairies or sandy areas. Your perennial beds look so lovely with the mixed plantings!


    • I don’t either, Beth. At the very least, the swath of mono-green is boring. But, it seems to have an enduring appeal. There are more and more home/property owners who are changing that paradigm–I just wish that change would happen more quickly.

      As for the yucca–it’ll probably rebound and all the other plants on the perimeter of the property aren’t negatively affected by too much water. I’m not surprised that there are yucca in Wisconsin–it’s a species that has quite a vast range. They’re lovely–structurally and of course, when they bloom.

      I so love the mixed perennial look in a garden!


  5. Such a shame that you have this watering problem to contend with, but the good thing is-a renewable plant which will probably look even nicer-at least for a while. I saw similar decline in my yucca this year and was concerned that it was the weevil. I cut it all down and now I have a yucca forest full of green leaves. Go natives.


    • I think you’re right, Jenny. The yucca is rebounding–I’ve been impressed. I originally thought that it might be weevils, but I never found any critters. I’m glad you’re “grove” is rebounding and lovely. Go natives, indeed!


  6. Mystery solved. heh. I love that last picture so much. Will a soft leaf yucca tolerate loamy clay? It might be just perfect for a certain bald spot ….


    • I think it will tolerate that soil. My soil is rather heavy and as long as I don’t water it too much, too often, the yuccas are fine. Good luck–let me know if you plant and how it does!


  7. Pingback: Yuck-ah | My Gardener Says…

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