Category Archives: Gardening mistakes

Plants for hot, hot-hot and hot-hot-hot Gulf Coast summers

That’s right. It’s hot-hot right now. That’s the comparative form of “more than just hot” along the Gulf Coast. And “hot-hot-hot” – is how we describe the superlative. That excessive warmth is going to be here in a few weeks.  I’ve even heard some say “hot-hot-hot-hot” which is pretty darn hot. For those of you who have just moved here, that heat usually arrives here in late August and early September.

Spend 10 minutes out in the sun at the warmest part of the day and whatever you’re wearing is going to be soaked. This is good, not bad, because sweating is our way of cooling off. As your body is depleted of water, you need to drink more fluids you lose through perspiration.

Plants do this too, in a way. They release oxygen and water through their stoma – small pores on the undersides of leaves. But plants don’t open their stomas at night- mainly because this process goes on during the photosynthesis process, and since there’s no sunlight at night, their pores remains closed.

Many plants tend to wilt in the heat. The wilting means they are losing more fluids through their stomata than they can take in through their roots. The deficit of water causes the plants to wilt. At this point, the plant suspends much if not all of photosynthesis action.

Savvy gardeners know that much of this wilting is temporary and not harmful to the plant, which may wilt in the hot afternoon, but perk up again at night, as the roots replenish the water supply. Chances are, though, when heavy wilting occurs, it could mean that the plant is either not native or not adapted to our harsh summer conditions.

Fortunately, there are many beautiful and hardy flowering plants that do exceptionally well along the Gulf Coast. Many of them are natives.

Here are some examples:

Coneflower (Dracopsis amplexicaulis) – Annual. 2-3 feet tall. Blooms April through July, sometimes August. Although it’s an annual, it will reseed readily.

Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) – Perennial – Part of the verbena family, Texas lantana is a spreading shrub that blooms from April through October. Also called “ham and eggs,” it thrives in poor soil, but the soil must be well-drained. It may get a little unruly but kept pruned, it will do nicely in the yard. Plant it in a hot dry place where nothing else will grow. Cut it back in early spring.

Drummond phlox (Phlox drummondii) – Perennial and reseeding. Flowers are white, pink, rose red, or purple. The plant can grow between 6 and 20 inches tall. It blooms from April through August.

Bee balm (Monarda clonopardia L) – Perennial. This monarda blooms July through September.  White or pink to purple flowers which bumble bees love.

Gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchelle) – Annual, although may reseed. 1-2 ft. In warm winters, it may not die back at all. Blooms May through August. If it rains much, it may. bloom through September and October. Attractive to birds and bees.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) – Perennial. 1-2 ft. Readily reseeds. Blooms June through October. Birds love the seeds of this plant and many people leave them in the garden all winter. The dry seed heads are quite attractive.

Giant coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima) – Perennial. 3-6 ft. Has similar characteristics of its smaller cousin, the black-eyed Susan, except the seed heads are much larger.

Hinckley’s columbine (Aquillegia chrysantha) – Perennial. 1-3 ft. Blooms April, May, June. Originally found in Presidio County, Texas. It does well in the shade.

Lance-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) – Perennial . 1-4 ft. Forms large colonies. April – through August.  Birds love the seeds in winter.

These plants are only a tiny portion of the native and heat-tolerant plants that do well here. They provide colorful blooms and interesting foliage from native plants who have evolved throughout the millennia to live on available rainfall alone and plants that have adapted to our climate. For more information on native plants, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin has an exhaustive interactive list. The site also provides names and locations of native plant nurseries and seed companies.

You can start cleaning up your gardens now…perhaps

My yard is a ragged mess. Many of my plants were damaged by the hard freeze in January.  In years past, I have waited until March to begin pruning damaged vegetation, but the pecan tree outside my window has swollen buds. According to gardening folklore, pecan trees begin to bud after the last freeze has passed and spring weather is truly here. I’m not sure about that, but I have begun pruning already.

There are a number of plants which are designated “herbaceous perennials.” This means that although the part of the plant above ground dies back, the root system is still alive. They will sprout again from the roots if the roots have survived cold weather. There are many plants falling into this category. Hibiscus is one of those. I have only the two varieties of Texas Star hibiscus, red and white, but they have already begun to sprout from the base of the previous year’s growth.

Because of mild winters here, many plants can stand moderately cold weather, and short periods below freezing. However, hard freezes like the one we had in January, froze many of these back, leaving them brown, wilted, and, for the most part, just plain ugly.

All of my salvia has died back to the ground. I’m not worried though. Salvia has a strong root system and I see some sprouts already. Same thing with Turk’s Cap, both the small varieties and the “giant” varieties.

Thus, I’m pruning – a lot. Here are some chores you can do now to clean up your flower beds and gardens, and get ready for spring beauty. If you’re not sure whether a certain plant is a perennial or not, there are lists available from Texas A&M and other universities. You might also try Texas Earthkind – a compendium of annuals and perennials. Simply conduct an internet search for Texas Earthkind.

I’m a pretty ruthless pruner. If I do see growth from the root system, I will cut the dead part back to the ground. If I’m not sure, I take a pocket knife, and gently scrape off the first layer of bark or skin of the plant, about have the size of a little finger nail. If I see green under the scrape, that part of the plant is still viable, and you shouldn’t cut it back. For larger plants you may want to make several scrapes down the stem. That’s because the top of the stem may have died, but the bottom part of the stem is alive. I am pruning some of these back, but not all the way to the green. That’s because I’m still a little cautious. If I cut these below the green, they may sprout out there – and if there is another freeze, the sprouting plants may suffer. I’ll cut some of the dead parts off, but I’ll wait until March to cut the back to the green part.

Salvia, phlox, lantana, butterfly bush, Copper Canyon daisy, coneflower, Brugmansia, yarrow, tansy, gaura, Turk’s Cap, I generally cut back mercilessly to the ground. While I’m at it, the rock roses, Carolina jessamine, esperanza, and many other plants are going to get a good haircut.

Interestingly, my crinums were the first to go under the knife. If you’ve raised crinums, you know that they are pretty indestructible, but the tips of the blades will freeze, and the damaged ends will stick to the tips of adjoining leaves and then blacken. These I cut just below the blackened area, and it’s okay to do that now. Some gardeners cut them all the way back to the bulb, but I like to keep as much foliage as I can. I also pulled out dead blades which had fallen to the ground.

Some of my native irises suffered a bit of freeze damage. I just trimmed these back below the dead leaves. I did the same with daylilies.