Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

GBQ&A: How is your garden handling the heat?

Today I'm joining Ricki of Sprig to Twig in posing a question for garden bloggers (and gardeners in general, of course). In the Pacific Northwest, we are experiencing a second unusually hot, dry summer. While not enough to make any concrete proclamations on climate change, the weather is making it difficult to keep many garden plants watered, especially if you've been doing a lot of planting and moving the last couple years. I had already decided to shift more towards plants that can handle our summer drought before last summer hit, and this summer is only making me more determined to do so. I'm weak, though, and still purchased a few thirsty plants even after it became apparent that this summer would be a killer for such things. Even worse, for the most part they were impulse buys, too. I'm almost contemplating trading or selling some of them at the next plant exchange or garden bloggers' bazaar (I'm hoping more and more that there will be another). I'm even thinking of phasing out some of the thirstier plants that are already in the garden.

Perhaps the most striking sign of how early and warm summer is this year is how my Calluna vulgaris are starting to bloom already. They're over a month early! Usually their one of the last things to bloom in summer.

At least they are fairly drought tolerant. I did finally water the ones in the driveway island this past weekend, which hadn't been watered at all since the rain stopped. The ones growing in front of the ramp at the front entrance may have to relocate this fall. It's difficult to water the steep slope of clay soil, even with a soaker hose, particularly with the landscape fabric under the mulch (thank you, contractors, and lazy gardener, aka: me). Even after watering, the slope faces west and gets so hot in the afternoons that many of the heathers still wilt and a couple of Penstemon rupicola have fried. Plants from the mountains don't like heat. Go figure. I was surprised by the survival of a Ledebouria 'Gary Hammer' on that slope, which requires excellent drainage in our winters that is not typically found in clay soil. The slope is enough to make up for the clay. Now I'm contemplating things that can take really hot afternoon sun and would grow well on a dry slope (maybe even an agave or two). I am planning to do a lot of moving and planting this fall and will likely make fall my main planting season from now on, restricting spring planting to very early in the season.

So (finally) I'll pose my questions. How is your garden handling the heat? Did you already have a mostly drought-tolerant garden or have the last two summers been a rude awakening? Are you planning to shift towards more drought-tolerant plants or will you be adapting in other ways such as more efficient irrigation? Or do you think this is an over-reaction and you're just going to water extra this year and wait for cooler summers to return? It could, and at some point probably will, happen. What are some of your favorite drought-tolerant plants? Are there any plants that have surprised you with their drought tolerance or improved performance thanks to the heat? Any other related thoughts are welcome, too!

12 comments:

  1. I'm intrigued by your question this morning, because all those Hydrangeas that I planted this spring are very very unhappy. I think some of them may be dead despite being watered, which makes me very sad. I was just wracking my brains and looking on Google this morning for suggestions for more summer drought-tolerant, Mediterranean style plants to replace them. But whatever I put there has to be able to take a good dose of morning shade, followed by 6+ unrelieved hours of summer afternoon sun, as well as our typical fall/winter gloom and rain. The only big plant that I put in this past spring that is still doing ok is the fig tree. I hope cooler summers will return, but if that doesn't happen, I think it's good to have a plan.

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    1. I have the same problem on the west side of the house, Alison. No sun until around noon, then hot afternoon sun for about 6 hours. Heathers and bearded iris handle it just fine, including the winter gloom and rain. This year I planted Erysimum, Eryngium agavifolium, Carex testacea, sedums, Veronica spicata ssp. incana, Hebe ochracea, and Artemisia schmidtiana in that bed. They seem to be handling the hot sun ok, although they aren't drought tolerant yet having just been planted. Not sure yet how they'll handle the winter gloom. The only hydrangea I have is the climbing hydrangea. It's been in the ground for several years now but has still been wilting without a deep watering every week or so.

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  2. I'm sick of watering. I'm a condo dweller who garden in someone else's property in North Seattle. Watering was his responsibility, but since he is away on vacation for almost two weeks, I'm haling the hose around every other day. I know Rosemary and Lavender are going to do just fine, but I often lose them to our winters. I find the sword fern to be taught as nails, and so is epidemium.
    Good luck controlling your spring urge to buy and plant... I make it a new year resolution every year. I admit to limited success.

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    1. Lavender usually does fine for me, but I always lose rosemary, too. I'm trying again this year, though, in a couple different areas. I have a wealth of sword ferns. I need more epimedium. Spring will probably be tough, though so far at least my summer plant buying has been stifled. I don't even feel like going to nurseries right now because I don't want to risk bringing home something else to water.

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  3. Evan, I also have a ramp, it has Rosemary, and had various Thymes, Oreganos, Marjorams, and Heathers there which all do very well with practically no watering at all or very sporadic. But I planted Kinnickinnick, Arctostapylos uva-ursi, and it is tending to run over the Thymes, maybe eventually more of the plants. Along those lines I planted 4 of the hardier Manzanitas in a remote area where it is too far to drag hoses so I don't water. The plants that do well there are the natives like Mahonia nervosa and Salal mostly in shade, some native roses, red- flowering currants, and of course Sword ferns. But I'm constantly fighting weeds and berry vines there so hope the Manzanitas can cover ground and shade them out. I also have ground covers that do well in dry shade and keep down weeds, like Symphytum grandiflorum, Geranium macrorrhizum, and Vincas. I'm planning to expand the geranium plantings a lot this fall, I'm realizing it could take care of more of my weed areas.

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    1. I always seem to lose rosemary, though I'm trying it again in a couple different spots and I have a dwarf one in a container as insurance. Thymes, oreganos, and marjorams would be good additions to my ramp bed. The bees love them. I have lots of lime thyme, but it falls victim to those ugly bare patches. I think I'd try dwarf or woolly thyme instead. I definitely need more manzanitas, and I'll have to do some research to see which ones would be best suited for that location. The deer would always decimate my kinnickinnick over the winter and in spring when it started growing, making it too thin to smother weeds. I'm planning on getting more now that the fence is up. I've been thinking of trying Geranium macrorrhizum. I need weed smotherers! Thanks for the suggestions!

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  4. I've been trending towards draught-resistance plants for some time now. Even so, watering has become a fact of life of late. Conifers, Ceanothus, Yuccas and most grasses seem to be faring well, even those beyond the reach of the hose. I'm reminded of the year St Helens blew her top and everyone thought that was the new normal. Climate change is real, but I think it will be gradual. In other words, I intend to plan for it without over-reacting.
    Thanks so much for joining GBQ&A. You are the first to actually do a post and link to Sprig to Twig. I think you should win a prize of some sort. Have I any plants that appeal to you? How about Acanthus spinosa? It definitely meets xeric requirements and you have the room for it.

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    1. Planning without over-reacting sounds like a good mindset to me, Ricki. I've never been one to take extreme positions, either. Thank you for thinking of this meme! I think it's a great idea! You know, I always pass on buying Acanthus spinosa because I don't quite know where to put it and I fear moving it because of how it resprouts, but I've gotten better at just planting things where there's a hole. I have lots of blank spaces to fill. I'd love if you shared some Acanthus with me, but I won't hold you to it.

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  5. I know your questions are aimed at gardeners in the PNW but I want to offer my sympathy - dealing with heat and drought isn't pretty under any circumstances and it's all the more difficult when the weather shift is unexpected. You may want to look at some of the longer-term weather projections provided by NOAA (http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/predictions/long_range/two_class.php) - frankly, I was trying to convince my husband to move north until a friend shared some of those predictions with me. In short, we should all plan for warmer weather and water restrictions. As to plant choices, you already know that I've been shifting my own selections to drought and heat tolerant plants but, due to your colder winter temperatures, my best picks may not be right for you.

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    1. I did make it rather PNW-centric. I've got other questions that are more applicable to gardens all over, so I'll be sure to pose one of those next time. Thanks for the sympathy. I've seen longer-term projections that claim the PNW will be one of the areas least affected by climate change. I don't put much stock in them either way. I wish I could grow all those grevilleas and other proteaceous plants you can, not to mention a host of other plants. As far as drought-tolerant plants go, I think you have a much better selection. Sure I can grow rhododendrons and other thirsty plants that you can't, but I don't want to water them!

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  6. So it's hot and dry where you are? My garden seems to be doing fine. Most of my really thirsty things are in pots either above ground or sunk into the soil. The hydrangeas, etc. in pots are doing better than those in the ground with no pot. The bamboos love the heat and really want to take over the garden. That might be a plan for the future, a garden of all bamboo.

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    1. Yep. My area has more in common with Portland than it does the Puget Sound area. My garden is much more open, too. Even in the shady areas, the dry afternoon wind we get blows through freely and dries things out. I want bamboo but it's always so expensive when I see it. I keep meaning to visit one of the specialty bamboo nurseries in the PNW. I think there's at least one both in Oregon and Washington.

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Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I love hearing what readers think and answering questions. I also welcome suggestions for improvement!