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Plants that Survive 

I was gazing at a garden magazine the other day. It featured an English garden in late summer; colorful masses of blooming perennials mocked me from the glossy pages. Sigh. My garden will never look like this public domain photo.In my garden, except for a few scraggly annuals, there is almost nothing blooming. Even plants advertised to flower from late summer into fall have decided to forget it. The goal is survival. 

September here can be good or bad. This year it has been awful. The problem is that in the past 6 weeks we have had a total of 0.3 inches of rain (according to my rain gauge), and at the same time we have had daily near triple digit heat. Remember, I don't live in a desert. In February, we received 13 inches of rain. Plants have to survive wet winters with mild temps interspersed with hard frost, as well as steamy, hot summers that are subject to drought. What plants can survive that? The biggest challenge is summer. We water constantly, but plants that thrive in other seasons may not make it through the summer. By the end of September there is always a death toll.

Ignoring shriveled leaves and dead branches, I took a walk in late afternoon one day to take shots of the garden. Most of what is doing well is green. Here are scenes from the woodland garden: 

Evergreens that flourish with minimal care and little extra watering:Clockwise from above left: Juniper 'Saybrook Gold'; Deodar cedar 'Feelin'Blue'; Various camellias - this one was here when we came in 1985, and I don't know its name; Rosemary.

Here are some undemanding decorative trees:Clockwise from top left: Cryptomeria japonica; Southern Magnolia; Burford holly (All types of hollies in my garden are doing well.); Crape myrtle, which has bloomed for months. Japanese maples have done fairly well, though I did lose a mature one to ambrosia beetles last year. Some leaves are looking fried, but most are OK so far. If the drought extends another month, I think the leaves will turn brown and fall before they can assume their fabulous autumn tints.The leaves of Japanese maples are just beginning to show signs of coming fall colors.

Here is a September view through the jasmine arch. Green is supreme:

One can see signs of drought inside the front garden. Dogwood trees are wilting badly. Some won't make it:

The winged fruit of this trident maple, as well as other types of maples, are called samaras.

This Hydrangea 'Lady in Red' needs daily watering during the droughty, hot weather we are experiencing.

Here is the "Lady of the Woodlands." She has acquired a lot of patina over the years. Her current hairdo is variegated creeping fig:

Finally, as the sun is setting, dusk hides faults within the garden. The air is cooler, and I know fall is eventually going to arrive, along with rain. Blessings to you all,  Deb

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Reader Comments (10)

Your Crape Myrtle is gorgeous! That is one plant that I can't grow--I'm about two zones too cold in winter. :( My garden is mostly green now, too, but it's because it's so shaded and the rabbits eat all the plants that bloom. LOL. The potted plants are blooming and colorful and the sunny garden is doing very well because we've had so much rain. By the way, your garden is enchanting, no matter what's blooming!

September 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBeth@PlantPostings

Sigh -I am so sorry and you know I know exactly what it is like there. It just seems to get worse. I will be there in a few weeks and sure hope it is a bit cooler. Don't look at my latest post! :(

September 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip

The view on the other side of the pond always looks better but even the UK garden bloggers have been complaining about drought (their version of it anyway) and heat this year. Every climate has its challenges and some years are worse than others. We had several horrible summers in a row but this one has been surprisingly mild. I hope Mother Nature has you set up for a glorious fall. Your woodland garden is always pretty, even when stressed.

September 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

Green is good, at least your plants will live to flower again next year hopefully. I hope you soon have cooler weather and some much needed rain, your garden is still looking beautiful.

September 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

Hasn't it been a rough go? Praying for some rain to come soon. Always love glimpses of your garden - thanks for sharing! xo

September 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterChristi {Jealous Hands}

Same problems in my garden in NC🤪I’ve lost 2 Japanese Maples that were in pots and my Red Bud may not make it. The weeds, however, are thriving!

September 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLori

Your weather really has been brutal. I don't think I could survive it, let alone the plants. Despite that, your garden still looks pretty good to me.

September 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Your lady has beautiful hair this time - variegated leaves sparkling and fronds gracefully draped.

September 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

Hi Deb,

I sympathize. Deeply.

We're officially at 0.02 inches of rain at Nashville airport for all of September -- driest September on record and 2nd driest month on record since 1871.

We actually did get a strong downpour for ~ 30 minutes one day... one of those pop-up storms that missed the official rain gauge ... but even so it's been brutally hot and dry since last August.

I was watering 2x/week until recently, but I've started back off to see what will survive on its own.

Maybe my 'tough love' routine is too harsh, but I feel like these sorts of extreme weather events - whether the 13 inches of rain in February or these sorts of late summer heatwaves and droughts - are going to become more common and I want the garden to be resilient to it.

It doesn't help that my soil is probably much worse than yours. No woodland duff here, just solid clay on a sunny hilltop outcrop. That said, the native junipers appear to be doing fine. And a neighbor's southern magnolia also seeks OK. Other plants are hanging in there, but I'm guessing there will be some losses. I'll probably plant more of whatever survives and aim for a lower maintenance and tougher - though perhaps less biodiverse - garden next year.

Oh I should mention that Symphyotrichum oblongifolium and Solidago sphacelata have both been tolerating the drought pretty well and blooming beautifully so far. And to think that I tried to get rid of the 'October Skies' aster because I thought it was too vigorous. I guess I'm still learning that sometimes those 'vigorous' plants are the only ones that are tough enough to survive here....

We're forecast to get a 'cold' front (80s!) on Friday and perhaps somewhat cooler weather next week with even a little rain. I don't want to get my hopes up too high (long-term forecasts can change drastically), but it's nice to have at least the prospect of light at the end of the tunnel.

Hope cooler weather and rain eventually arrives in Alabama and that you get to enjoy a long, cool, pleasant autumn.


September 30, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteraaron

I just put up a similar blog post yesterday, expressing my frustration with my end of summer garden! But my zinnias are hanging tough, and keeping me happy with garden color. Chin up!

October 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Ruff Leja

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