Orange, Texas, a city where it can rain for days on end, is experiencing something very different from what people are accustomed to. For several months now, Orange has been in a drought and many trees and plants are dying because of the lack of rain.

According to, the average annual precipitation for the city of Orange is 58.6 inches. As of July, the precipitation levels are down quite a lot. For the month of June, the average rainfall is 6.21 inches, but Orange only received about 3.10 inches of rain.

One of the places in Orange that would seem to be greatly affected by this drought is Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. However, the beautiful trees, flowers, and wildlife of Shangri La are doing well considering the extreme weather conditions.

When Shangri La was created, it was designed as an earth-friendly environment that would stay green through rain or drought. A very elaborate irrigation system was constructed that would prevent the trees and plants of Shangri La from dying during times of very little rain.

Workers at Shangri La are able to keep the gardens fresh and growing, but it does not come at an easy cost. Mike Hoke, managing director of Shangri La, has to be very diligent when it comes to running the irrigation system.

Usually, during times of moderate rainfall, the irrigation system runs from about once every day to once every week. However, because of the lack of rain, workers at Shangri La have to run the system three to four times a day, sometimes even at night.

“During times like these, you have to be really on your toes,” Hoke said. “We even have a worker at night, Blaine Williams, who is out here making sure everything is turned on and working.”

Although the irrigation system keeps most of the plants and trees healthy, there are times of downfall. The gardens may be receiving lots of water when the system runs, but when the humidity in the air is very low, it is almost impossible to water the plants enough.

“You end up spending a lot of your money on watering plants so that you can keep them lush,” Hoke said. “So we may be able to keep our plants alive, but that comes with an expensive water bill.”

Plants and trees of Shangri La are faring well during this drought, but some of the ecosystems are suffering. Within the gardens, there existed a large beaver pond that many beavers made their home. Because of the lack of rain the pond has dried out, leaving no habitat for the beavers. Thus many beavers have migrated to different locations and will not be back at Shangri La until the pond fills up with water again.

Many homeowners may be experiencing the same things that Shangri La must deal with such as running water constantly in order to keep gardens lush. But during droughts that last this long, it is hard to use enough water to keep all of your plants alive, so Mike Hoke has given a few tips on how to keep homeowner’s gardens green during this drought.
“The number one tip and the most important: go native. It’s the secret to success,” Hoke said.

Having plants that are native to this part of Texas, is the easiest way to keep a garden alive. Because native plants are adaptive to living without water, they thrive in the southeast Texas environment. Sometimes Orange has a lot of rain, but native plants can adapt to downpours or droughts.

Many people in Orange have St. Augustine grass, which requires around 80 inches of rain per year. This would mean that homeowners would consistently have to water their grass because that amount of rain in Orange seldom happens.

“We have native plants out here that we never have to water,” Hoke said. “I know native plants aren’t favored but they save a lot of water and are much easier to maintain.”

Another tip for homeowners that Hoke gave is to use a good layer of mulch to hold the moisture in and keep it from evaporating off of the plants.

Compared to the rest of southeast Texas, Shangri La is one of the lushest places. With its busy workers and excellent water system, the plants and ecosystems, for the most part, are still in the same shape that they were in before the drought.

“There are flowers blooming and lots of green everywhere so it’s still just as beautiful,” Hoke said.