Entries in summer (9)


August in Alabama

The sky is so bright the blue pops like cerulean paint splashed against a white wall. Hot air blankets the earth, moist and thick. We all shrug at the soaring temperature and humidity. It is August in Alabama, and what do you expect? I watch clouds form in the afternoon and evaluate their potential for rain.I am thankful we have not had a drought this summer, but even a day or two of high nineties heat can cause plants, as well as people, to wilt.

The clouds thunder and rain briefly pours over us. There is temporary refreshment, but when the sun comes out again, steam rises from the drive's hot pavement and only increases the sauna-like conditions.Deodar cedar 'Feelin' Blue' grows along the edge of the drive that overlooks the woodland garden. Steam rises from the road after a brief summer shower.But summer will soon begin to fade, and within a month the weather will be changing. Meanwhile, a quick tour of the garden:

The succulents take the heat gracefully. Not many plants will survive the summer in concrete pots, but these do well. I initially planted Sedum 'Vera Johnson' in the ground, where it languished for several years. After I transplanted it to this old concrete pot, it began to flourish.

Echeveria runyonii 'Topsy Turvy' is another succulent that is blooming this summer. It is growing in a hypertufa pot in full sun.

Hydrangea 'Limelight' continues to bloom, despite the heat. It is in partial sun, and I do have to water it whenever we don't get rain for a few days. I can see the blooms from the kitchen window. They brighten my day, for the greenish-white panicles truly glow amidst the greenery of the garden.

My watering can is put to good use this time of year!Arborvitae fern (Selaginella braunii) and wild violets surround my old watering can.

Some more plants around the August garden:Clockwise from top left: Coral colored Impatiens is a good companion to golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'); Yucca filamentosa 'Bright Edge', also called Adam's Needle; Variegated Liriope; Coneflower is spent, but the seeds remain for the birds.

We are harvesting lots of apples from our two apple trees. One is a Golden Delicious, and the other is Red Delicious. Neither are recommended for our Deep South location. I did not do my research before I purchased them! They are also prone to apple-cedar rust, and we have many cedar trees on our property. These trees should be doomed, but they don't seem to know it.

August is hummingbird season, as they travel through our area on their way to Central America. They will fly five hundred miles, non-stop on their southern migration across the Gulf of Mexico. I love these amazing little birds with such feisty personalities. I spent over an hour in the sweltering heat, trying to get a good shot of one. I had little success, for their aerobatics are too fast for my reflexes. I finally managed this out of focus image and decided that would have to do!


I had no trouble at all getting a photo of this ornamental metal bird:

Finally, the most amazing photo that got away... I was walking through the arbor garden and noticed black-capped chickadees flying around the iron chandelier that hangs over a small sitting area. The chandelier holds six candles, and a chickadee was perched on each candle, pecking furiously away. The chandelier was holding six chickadees, and wax was going in all directions! I don't know what they liked about the candles. Perhaps the wax was similar to suet. By the time I got back with my camera, the chickadees were gone and so were all the candles. Here is a photo of my iron chandelier, with new candles:

and here is a black-capped chickadee, a public domain photo, not mine:

So the moral to that story is to always keep a camera with you. Don't we all know that, and does anyone actually do it? Happy August to you. Soon it will be September!



Summer Proof the Garden

The doldrums have arrived. Gardening is at a minimum. I prefer to be inside, reading my newest garden magazine. Outside, plants may be loosing their vigor with bright green leaves fading to pale blueish gray, leaf edges crinkled, leaves dropping — all signs of heat stress. Meanwhile, bugs select the weakened plants for midsummer's wildest party, sucking and munching and having an orgy with all their friends and relatives. What's a gardener to do?heat stressed leaves

Don't let the doldrums get you down! Here are ten things one can do to summer proof the garden:

1. Choose the right plants. Many ornamental plants now have heat zone recommendations as well as hardiness zones listed on their tags. Developed by the American Horticultural Society in the late 1990s, the heat zone map identifies 12 heat zones in the US. These heat zones are based upon how many days a year the temperature rises above 86 degrees, the temperature when plant cells begin to deteriorate. I am in heat zone 8, which means there are 91-120 days when temperatures rise above 86. Look to see if a tag has two ratings for a given plant, such as 3-7/4-6. The first set of numbers indicates the plant is winter hardy in hardiness zones 3-7, and the second set of numbers indicates the plant will survive summers in heat zones 4 through 6. Remember the hardiness and heat zone maps are two different maps, so one needs to know both zones for one's location. I am on the edge of hardiness zones 7b/8a, but I am firmly in the middle of heat zone 8. There are plenty of plants that can take my winters but not my summers! Replace plants that die with others that are more likely to survive. Native plants are usually reliable, because they are well adapted to both winter and summer conditions.

2. Another thing that you can do to summer proof your plants is to add compost to the soil. This improves soil texture, creating large pores for water movement and air infiltration. Roots can also spread more easily, allowing the plant to reach nutrients and moisture. One trick to help retain moisture in sandy soil is to add clay based kitty litter.

3. Add a 3-4 inch layer of good organic mulch around the plant, but avoid piling the mulch directly against the base of the plant. I use a lot of pine straw, which complements my naturally acid soil. Avoid artificial mulches or gravel, which will radiate heat around the plant and is more suitable for desert type plants. 

4. Mow lawns high. This allows more leaf surface for photosynthesis, the process by which plants turn sunlight into energy. Do not fertilize lawns, except with a weak water based solution or with a top dressing of compost. 

5. Water deeply, less often. Frequent shallow watering encourages shallow root growth. Early morning watering is best. Drip irrigation systems winding their way through the plants are ideal. Bury them under the layer of mulch.

6. Group plants according to their water needs.

7. Windbreaks can protect plants against harsh summer winds. Trees, hedges, and fencing are options. Fences should allow air movement through the structure. Solid fences can create heat traps. 

8. I like to mix up a summer tonic for my garden. This consist of 2 tbs. of Epsom salts per gallon of water. To this I add fish emulsion or a seaweed fertilizer, prepared according to directions. The Epsom salts provide magnesium and sulfur, which promote photosynthesis. Fish emulsion and seaweed fertilizer supply many trace elements, amino acids, and enzymes that promote plant health and stress tolerance. I apply this to the soil around just about everything in my garden, especially those plants showing heat stress.

9. Provide shade during the hottest part of the day. You can make temporary shades out of shade cloth or other materials. I have seen colorful umbrellas propped here and there in a garden, giving relief to hydrangeas and other heat stressed plants.

10. Move plants in pots to more protected locations.This recent view of my lawn and garden shows that, so far at least, my garden is coming through this year's summer without too much heat stress.It may be tempting to ignore the garden when the summer doldrums strike. There have been years I wanted to give up and let the weeds have it. Don't! Early morning or late afternoon strolls give you an opportunity to check out plants when the temperatures are a bit cooler, and that is also is the best time to get garden chores done. And if you have summer proofed your garden, you and your plants can stay happy, even when the heat and humidity soars.