By Margie Densford
After last summer’s record-breaking heat and drought, coupled with high water bills, I thought I’d take notice of the plants that came through the sizzle in the best shape. I have a feeling that those conditions, for the most part, are here to stay.
We used all the tricks in the book to minimize our water bill. All the flower beds were mulched, soaker hoses or drip irrigation were in place, and native, drought resistant plants were placed correctly.
Hundreds of square feet of new flower beds built last spring contributed to our exorbitant water bills. Dozens of shallow rooted trees, shrubs, and perennials were introduced into sunny spots in our landscape. Had we built these new beds in the fall, much less water and therefore expense would have been needed. Regardless, we still have quite a few success stories to tell.
At the top of my list for tough as nails winter flowering shrubs are Edgeworthia crysantha, ‘Paper Bush,’ Witch Hazel, Camellia, and Quince. It was amazing that the Edgeworthia we bought at last April’s Hydrangea Society meeting didn’t skip a beat in the sweltering temperatures of its first summer. Our Camellia, which normally waits until December to bloom, was covered with blossoms by Thanksgiving. Global warming, ya think? The red and white flowering Quinces we bought at The Botanical Gardens winter sale last year have a low, vertical growth habit. To our surprise both had a few blooms on them on and off all summer.
Besides the beautiful Dogwood and Redbud trees we see bursting with spring color even in the wild, Witch Hazel, Viburnum, and Mock Orange also light up the spring garden with brilliant flowers, as well as thriving in harsh conditions. Last year we got a variegated Silver Cloud Redbud and a weeping Lavender Twist Redbud at Summer Celebration in Jackson. Even though that was not an ideal time to plant, they survived the summer with a little extra TLC. Witch Hazels’ spidery blooms come in an assortment of colors, while Viburnums’ white to pink blooms range from snowball shaped to five-pedaled open flowers that seem to float in midair. The Mock Orange struts its fragrant, creamy blossoms on more arching branches and is easily divided and passed along to a friend.
Summer offers up many drought-resistant, easy to care for shrubs like Knockout Roses, Crape Myrtle, and Spirea. These plants are so rugged they can often be found in medians and island beds surrounded by asphalt. Although the Knockouts will give you continuous blooms through three seasons without deadheading, you can almost get the same affect by planting the spring and summer blooming varieties of Crape Myrtle and Spirea. We have several of the new, smaller Spirea ‘Goldmound’ cultivars that have striking chartreuse foliage and grow from 1-3 ft. high. They make a great accent with other summer blooming perennials.
We also had great luck with several unique, ornamental conifers last spring. They even sprouted some new growth throughout the summer. A couple of favorites are Thuja orientalis ‘Franky Boy’ with brilliant seasonal color changes and the gray-green Cedrus deodara ‘Deodra Cedar’ which boasts a pyramid shape and graceful, drooping branches. Evergreens won’t show signs of wilt or droop when they’re dry, so a regular regimen of drip irrigation was used to insure they stayed well hydrated.
An extraordinary, one of a kind, deciduous small tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Weeping Katsura’ is a must-have! My description will not do this exquisite tree justice, so if at all possible google it, or look it up the next time you’re at the library. The Weeping Katsura has inverted heart-shaped, blue-green leaves that dangle from its deeply arched stems and blow in the wind much like little wind chimes. (Actually, that was pretty good.) Although it looks delicate, it is a remarkably sturdy little tree.
If I were planting perennials that beat the heat, I’d choose from natives. Grasses and wildflowers are always a good bet for plants that fair well in the frying pan that we call summer. They also come back by seed or root each year to grace us with their beauty. These natives come in a variety of colors, heights, and sun or shade requirements. I do not water this area of my garden…the strong shall survive.
I must give a shout out to Dabney’s Nursery at 5576 Hacks Cross Road. where we got most of our collection. Dabney’s has been in business for over 30 years and they only sell plants that thrive in our area, including the heat and humidity of our sweltering summers. I would challenge anyone to find better prices or more knowledgeable staff anywhere in the Memphis area.
Let’s face it; most gardeners plant something new every year. When a good amount of money is involved, it’s important to protect that investment. What is it they say? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, the most essential components of ‘prevention’ would be starting with healthy, adaptable plants and using water-wise practices.
April garden tips:
1. Plant container-grown perennials.
2. Prune azaleas after blooming.
3. Refresh mulch in planting beds.
4. Move overwintered tropicals outdoors when night temperatures remain above 50 degrees.
5. Replenish the top 2” of soil in all containers.
April Garden opportunities:
•April 5-6 (Fri. and Sat. 8 a.m.-4 p.m.) Wildflower Plant Sale at Dixon Gardens
•April 12-13 (Fri. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sat. 9 a.m.-1 p.m.) Lichterman Plant Sale
•April 19-20 (Fri. and Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) Spring’s Best Plant Sale at Memphis Botanic Garden (MBG)
• April 21 (Thu. 6 p.m.-7 p.m.) Garden Wildlife Series-“A Home for Frog and Toad” with Cathy Justis at MBG Members $5 Non-members $8.
• April 21 (Thu. 7 p.m.) Mid South Hosta Society with Larry Tucker-Confessions of a Hostaholic- MBG, Non-member $5
Margie Densford is a Master Gardener, a member of the Millington City Beautiful Commission, and a member of The Garden Club of Rosemark, a member of the National and Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs.