Central Texas might as well be in Australia right now. Everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere is enjoying something called summer: a time of life, action and everything relentlessly growing into perfection.
Like Australia, Central Texas is entering its rest time.
The major limiting factor here isn’t the cold; it is the heat. When temperatures reach a certain point (at least on my property) things just stop. We’ve ‘enjoyed’ summers where I rarely even needed to cut the lawn. The leaves of grass simply refused to grow. They. Didn’t. Even. Try. And really why should they? It takes gumption just to lift a glass to sip lemonade once the temperature routinely exceeds 100 (F).
Where there is growth, it is slow and incremental — so unlike what happens in spring. I once planted some bulbs at the same time I had visitors over during SXSW. By the time the visitors left the bulbs had not only sprouted but made obvious progress. Plants in Central Texas have to explode with green in the spring because they are racing against time. By the time people start shooting July fireworks the growing season for most things will be over.
Pecans in the Summer
The pecans leafed out a long time ago. The focus now is on nut production.
People say pecan trees are thirsty plants. Luckily, we have creeks bordering the land and heavy clay soil so I rarely irrigate. The fine clay particles tenaciously hold onto any available moisture keeping the roots nice and cool. Most of our dozen or so pecans are wild heritage trees so their root systems are old and well established.
The juglone produced by pecans and released through that extensive root system has allelopathic qualities. Alleopathy as a theory is a bit controversial and not accepted by all but the gist is that some organisms produce allelochemicals which can drastically inhibit the growth of selected competitors while other plants are left completely unaffected. The benefit for a long-lived tree is that as it grows it can shape and influence its environment to create a members only club.
Besides monopolizing the water and soil the density of pecans growing here also restricts the amount of available light. I took this picture on a sunny afternoon in May. Even that sharp-eyed grackle would have trouble finding the bits of blue sky today.
Pecan Survival Strategies
By living in a riparian environment, I think pecans escape the worst of the relentless heat. The constant presence of water helps to keep them cool. But any living thing that evolved successfully in the prairie ecosystems — even the riparian plants — had to develop strategies to survive drought as well as heat since drought is a naturally recurring phenomenon here. Pecans produce nuts on alternate years. If a drought occurs during a producing year the tree has a number of options: the nut size can be stunted or the tree can just give up, throw the developing crop onto the ground and try again another year. Pecan trees are long-lived so a few bad seasons are not nearly as perilous as they can be for shorter lived perennials.
If the water stress does occur over a long period a pecan tree will sacrifice limbs so that the whole tree can survive. During the worst of the drought we routinely saw huge tree-like life-threatening things fall from the sky. After I sawed them into reasonable lengths I used to set the wood out for the city to recycle. Ugh. What a mistake. The limb falling has nearly stopped but when it does occur I keep the pieces to decompose and replenish the soil. Those fallen limbs make great wildlife habitat, too.
Basically, pecan trees are tough. But I should be responsible and say that pecan trees are not suited for gardens aiming to be xeric. Just because something can survive a drought does not mean it prefers that situation or that it can thrive forever. I don’t grow the pecans as a crop and I don’t care about yield. If I did, these trees would probably have required insane amounts of supplemental irrigation over the past ten years. We do gather some nuts for pies but mostly I leave them for local wildlife like the resident squirrel pictured at the top of this post. I’m happy to let the trees produce as little or as much as they wish.
So, other than the odd check to make sure everything is alive and well there isn’t much ‘gardening’ for me to do. I look for water stress. I watch out for pests and disease but mostly the squirrels and I monitor the progress of the developing pecan nuts. Summer gardening in Central Texas is my slow time: dreaming and waiting for cooler weather — waiting for Second Spring which will arrive sometime around October.