To say that the summer of 2011 was a challenge is a huge understatement. But for gardeners, it has provided an opportunity to look around and see what has survived and provided color in spite of the challenges.
Some plants seem to be totally at ease with heat and dryness. Two popular drought tolerant plants are Esperanza (Tecoma stans) and Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). Esperanza ‘Gold Star’ is a superior selection from plantsman Greg Grant that is known for its compact form (usually 3 to 6 feet), bright yellow, bell-shaped flowers and drought tolerance. Yellow bells thrive in full sun but will also work in about a half day of direct sun. They begin flowering in early summer and bloom till fall. In areas where freezing temperatures occur Esperanza can be cut back to near ground level in winter.
Desert Willow, sometimes called “Orchid Tree,” has similar heat and drought tolerance. Foliage is willow-like and the overall effect is graceful and airy with even light wind producing graceful movement among the stems and leaves. Mature specimens do not produce much shade so other plants can be successfully grown beneath them. Desert Willows like well-drained soils and can thrive as far north as Amarillo.
Lantana and Bachelor’s Buttons (Gomphrena globosa) have continued to flower with minimal irrigation. Bachelor’s Buttons are definitely hot weather plants and with just a little irrigation will produce 2 to 3 inch mounds of globe-shaped flowers till frost. Colors range from dark purple to pink and white. A new form ‘Fireworks’ is as tough as the common ones. Historically, Bachelor’s Buttons were cut for bouquets, hung upside down and in a well-ventilated place and used for fall and winter bouquets. In spring some of the flowers would be shredded and used for seed to start the next year’s crop. This is truly an heirloom and resource efficient plant.
Sweet potato vines have also thrived this summer. They are very popular because of their extreme vigor. New plants can be started from cuttings as long as the bed is kept fairly moist for about a week after transplanting. Many forms including the dark purple, almost black ‘Blackie’ are now available, though not thought to be as vigorous as the bright green ‘Margarita’ (Ipomoea batatas).
For those that have not completely given up on keeping their lawn relatively green, keeping a little color in their landscape or growing a vegetable garden, sustaining adequate moisture in the garden or landscape will be the priority this fall. Trees and shrubs should be given at least one inch of water per week, delivered slowly, around the plants as far out as the “drip line” extends. According to the Texas Forest Service, a good method to determine if trees are getting enough water is to stick an 8 inch screwdriver in the ground at a tree’s drip line. If there is moisture the length of the screwdriver the tree has adequate moisture. If not, it needs additional water.
Fall is a good time to replenish mulch around trees and shrubs. It is also a good time to prune out dead or diseased wood from trees and shrubs. However, hold off on major pruning until midwinter. Pruning now may stimulate tender growth prior to frost.
Now that the heat has broken somewhat, cool-season vegetables, such as mustard, lettuce, arugula, broccoli, carrots and turnips, can be started. Continue to harvest okra, peppers, squash and other vegetables often to encourage production.
This has definitely been a challenging summer, one for the record books. It has separated the survivors from the “hot house flowers”. Texas gardeners are survivors, especially the Clay County variety, and most are looking forward to another season, hopefully with cooler temperatures and more rain.
For further information about these topics, contact Missy at the Clay County Extension office at (940) 538-5042 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.