July 04, 2012

Diary of a worried, traveling plant nerd

Friday, June 22: I spend the day watering tender plants. The grass is crunchy and going dormant. Some plants look stressed and unlikely to make it much longer after weeks without rain and temperatures in the 90s. We are about to head to Branson, Mo., early tomorrow morning. This afternoon, my daughter’s friend comes over so I can explain the locks, the cats’ food and water needs, and how to turn on the sprinkler for two specific areas in the garden. I’ve placed all my potted plants under the arc of one of the sprinklers. The forecast looks a little better: highs in the low 80s for the first part of next week. But next to no precipitation in the 10-day outlook.

Saturday, June 23: We hit the road at 5:30 a.m., for a full day of driving through Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri—heading to a family reunion. I eagerly anticipate reconnecting with aunts and uncles, cousins, their kids and grandkids, and my nieces. My garden is mostly out of sight, out of mind. But there’s a nagging, minor worry just under the surface—I always think about the cats, but this time I worry about the plants, too. The weather is not looking good.

Sunday, June 24 – Wednesday, June 27: Family activities and Branson attractions keep my mind occupied. It’s too hot to hike or spend much time outside. We observe a new plant that the northerners among our clan aren’t familiar with: Crepe Myrtles. They look like Lilacs from a distance and come in various shades, from pink to mauve and purple. Not hardy in zone 5. Thoughts about my garden start to creep back as I watch the weather forecast for Branson and home. It will be 107 in Branson on Thursday and 97 at home. Neither location has had much rain since mid-May. I don’t sleep well—thinking about traveling home and what I will find there. Will the cats be OK? Will the plants be dead?

Thursday, June 28: We spend most of the day inside. It’s so hot, we feel stressed walking from the condo to the gathering room. Still, lots of laughs and fun times with the family. Plants are drying out here in Branson. The sprinkler systems come on in the evening, reminding me that my garden is likely equally stressed and out of my control.

Friday, June 29: We’ll leave for home tomorrow morning. I spend the morning photographing Crepe Myrtles and various other plants around the condo property. I take a quick dip in the pool, and by noon I’m ready to head inside for lunch and, later, a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit. I don’t think about the plants much today, because I’ve convinced myself worry won’t help (took me a while, didn’t it?).

Saturday, June 30: Up at dawn again. The trip home is rushed, but thankfully mostly uneventful. When we get home, I do a preliminary assessment. I’m relieved, for the most part. Cooler temperatures at the beginning of the week and my daughter’s friend’s care have kept most of the tender plants alive. Still, two plants are flat on the ground and I’m not sure whether they’ll survive—a Hydrangea bush that I forgot to ask her to water, and a new Hellebore that doesn’t seem to have benefitted enough from the light watering. I water both liberally and aim the sprinkler on the perennial garden. And then I retreat to the air-conditioned house.

Sunday, July 1 – Wednesday, July 4: I don’t like to baby the plants, but without water, many of them will surely die. The Hydrangeas, in particular, suck up the water so fast and need to be watered every day in this heat. Our area has had 0.31 inches of rain since June 1—the driest June on record. We might tie the all-time record high of 104 on Thursday, July 5—and the humidity (around 50%) is much higher here than in Branson.



The Crabapples are stressed. Their leaves litter the dormant grass at their base.



The Mayapples are burned up and long-gone for the season. I don’t water them because they’re in the wild, wooded part of the garden.


The Fiddlehead Ferns are drying and look horrible. But they can be a bit invasive and likely will bounce back later in the season, so I don’t worry too much about them.


My cut flower/kitchen garden is thriving. I’ve planted sun-loving, heat-tolerant plants here, and a few waterings while we were gone kept them all satisfied.


The potted plants are fine since they were watered, too.


The setting sun seems friendly and threatening at the same time.


Still, not much rain in the forecast, but the temperatures will cool to our normal low-80s highs on the weekend. I smelled rain when we drove through a storm on the way home from Branson, and now it’s a smell and a sensation I can’t wait to experience here at home. And the birds, animals, and plants are looking forward to it, too.

(Note: I thought long and hard about how to write this post. I can’t really complain, with fires, strong storms, hotter temperatures, and power outages in other parts of the country. But one of the purposes of this blog is to document what’s happening in my garden over time. So, a diary format seemed appropriate. Many of us in the U.S. will remember the growing season of 2012 for a long time to come.)

(Oh, by the way, the cats were fine during our absence. They received excellent care and attention, and had a nice, cool basement to escape to.)

Happy 4th, and stay cool and safe!

36 comments:

  1. Here in Michigan, we were experiencing much the same but yesterday we had heavy storms roll through all day. Lots of rain. It is still going to be hot but now plants are starting to green up a bit.

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    1. I'm so glad, Mary. I wouldn't wish this extended drought on anyone. So far I'm keeping up with the drought, but I fear the local farmers won't fare so well--especially if they don't have irrigation systems.

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  2. Oh, do I know the feeling! What a year to have planted so many new trees and shrubs! But, no grass gets watered, and only those that need watering to get established, but that still leaves me pulling hoses all over the place.

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    1. Yeah, I know what you mean--the new and tender stuff gets the water. The grass is brown and crunchy, but it will come back. I had planned to plant more new shrubs and Roses, and now I'm glad I didn't get around to it. There's always next year, I guess.

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  3. The extra layer of worry, if we water our plants, is that use of mains water sustainable? I'm worried that the farm dam we walk past (the one in my header) is nearly empty - at this our 'rainy' time of year!

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    1. Gosh, I imagine your water shortage is much worse than ours. That must be really challenging! We're not used to it here--and most of our plants (native and non-native) aren't adapted to this kind of weather. Hopefully it will be over soon. 40% chance of rain on the weekend. I'm cautiously optimistic now.

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  4. Hi Beth! I'm glad you found your garden well after the trip. Reading your post and news from the East and Midwest makes me appreciate our cool summer. Although, July could be different.
    I like your idea how to put potted plants under the sprinkler arch! I can use it while travelling this month. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks, Tatyana. It's payback time for us--after many months of very nice weather. I hope you get some slightly warmer weather, and I hope I get a little rain. Have safe and fun travels!

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  5. I know it's hard not to worry, but thankfully you came home to no large disasters....

    We normally are supposed to have weather like you do, maybe not that hot until later, but the rains...oh the rains. No records broken, but just so much rain.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

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    1. I am envious of your rain! It's amazing how much we take for granted that the rain will fall, the sun will shine, and the air conditioning system will work, etc. I'm so thankful that the latter is the case, but just a little tip of the weather trends and we have too much water or not enough. I'm thankful that I have a shade garden. I saw a lot of dead bushes, shrubs, and trees on my drive home from work today. :(

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  6. That's the most impressive travelog I've ever seen in the blogosphere. I'm still pine for the crepe myrtles tree I knew as a kid in my native Australia. They can turn into trees here in Kansas but killed to the ground every 3-4 years. I still love your bleeding heart header. Very nice

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    1. Wow, thank you Patrick! Yeah, I was definitely impressed with the Crepe Myrtles. If they were native to the U.S., I might try to add one to a warmer microclimate in my garden. Do they get killed in Kansas because of cold winters, or wind, or some other reason? I've been meaning to change out the Bleeding Heart header, since they're past-season now. But maybe I'll keep it up a little longer. I appreciate your kind comments!

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  7. I know exactly how you feel. We were out of town this weekend with three days of over 100 degree temps and I was worried about my garden despite having hired someone to water. None of my ferns took well to this extreme heat despite getting water. We will be gone now for 3 weeks and I know I will be thinking of my garden everyday. Glad your garden survived and sounds like you had a wonderful trip! I will be praying for rain!

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    1. Safe travels, Karin, and I'm sure your garden will be fine if you have someone coming to care for it. Thanks for your prayers! The farmers in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin need them, because it sounds like they are the hardest hit with this extreme heat/drought.

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  8. I have yet been able to leave y garden to anyone's car except the hubby so we are glued to the garden all summer...I worry daily as we do not get rain. Many plants will have to grow on their own and they do except the containers and veg beds. We have had too many days in the 90s but I am trying to find positives for this weather like the veg beds...we shall see. Our lawn is always dormant during summer..very brown and crunchy...seems a waste of space as it does nothing...Glad to hear you enjoyed yourself and that the garden is not burned to a crisp....your liatris is lovely as it starts to bloom...mine is not yet blooming.

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    1. Thanks, Donna. Our lawn is usually dormant in the summer, too, but this year lawns around town are scorched and will take a long time to come back. Still, that's OK. But I don't want the Crabapples, the Hydrangeas, the veggies, or the perennials to die. And I worry terribly about the farmers and their crops. So, I'm thankful that I have a shady garden, but sad for others. So many mixed and frustrated emotions these days...

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  9. I feel your pain, Beth; you could have been describing my garden as well. Even though I've been home all week, watering is about the only chore I've accomplished. The only time I go outside in the heat of the day is to let the dogs out and move the sprinkler to another part of the garden. I realize, too, that people in other parts of the country are experiencing much worse problems, and I'm thankful that I have power and the A/C to retreat to. Still, it's hard to see the garden so stressed out...

    On the upside, this is a good time to see what plants are tough--your liatris and zinnias are looking good!

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    1. Very good points, Rose! It's weird, though--many of the natives are not doing well in this extreme heat because it's not normal for us. But I'm sure you've experienced this, too. For example, the Cotoneaster and Barberry are fine and I've barely watered them, while the Mayapples and native Ferns are struggling. But it is encouraging to see that the Echinaceas survive no matter what.

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  10. I'm glad that most of your garden made it through your absence. It's a rough time for the gardener when heat and drought hit. All we can do is worry and wait for it to pass. We are having better weather than last year, but it seems like most of the country is suffering under horrible conditions. Good luck.

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    1. Thanks, Holley. I know you had to deal with this--except much worse--last summer. So I'm glad you're not facing it this year. We will need the luck and prayers--especially the farmers. It's very sad to see and hear the reports of dry, cracked soil and severely underdeveloped crops. :(

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  11. Like many of your other readers, I relate well to your post. It's been a stressful summer for anything living. If this is global warming, I'm totally scared.
    We finally received some rain last night & I can't tell you what a blessing it felt like. Even so, one night is not enough the ground is so parched. If only it would stay for a week! Hope it heads your way next. Glad you had a good time in Branson. The heat has been doing me in this summer (this from a girl who has always liked it before). I don't think I'm used to temps this high for this long tho??? Aside from being out in the mornings & evenings, I've been staying indoors. Not typical at all. Praying for some moderation!!!

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    1. I know, usually I like hot weather, too. But this isn't normal. And even the native plants are finding survival difficult. I'm glad you got some rain! Still nothing here, but it rained north and south of us. Very scary. We're considered in a "moderate drought" but that drought all happened in the month of June--the key month of our growing season. My garden will survive, but the farmers are hurting. :(

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  12. I have the same situation. I will be gone for more than a week and we are not getting rain. I am sure the garden will suffer. I took images before leaving and can only imagine it will not look like this when I return. Our weather has been brutal in the last couple of years and it appears to be worsening. Glad your garden made it through with minimal damage. The plants endure, even if they look worse for wear.

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    1. Safe travels, Donna! I hope your garden gets some rain while you're gone. I think we're stuck in a dry spot here. And it wouldn't have been so bad if we didn't have the extreme heat on top of it! Let's pray for a shift in weather patterns--the plants, animals, and people need it.

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  13. It has been a challenging year with weather. My grass is crunchy and going dormant in spots as well. And we have been asked by the county to voluntarily stop outdoor watering. I still have some water in the rain barrels but not much. There is a prediction of rain tomorrow or Monday, and I hope for you and I that we get it.

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    1. I hope you get the rain, too. No rain in our forecast for at least the next week. :( This is not fun. I used up the rain barrel water before our vacation. So far no request for us to avoid watering plants, but it's always hard to pick which plants should get the special treatment. But I'm trying to take it in stride as much as possible.

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  14. I feel your pain as we experienced this last year. Learn from it and take note of what works and what doesn't. Your garden will be better for it. Also, wanted to answer your question about the 'Fireworks' Fountaingrass. It does need full sun. You've got plenty of that this year, right?

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    1. Good advice, Toni. I'm (sadly) seeing that Hydrangeas are not suited to this extreme weather. Now, that said, I'm not sure I'd get rid of them because hopefully this won't happen every year from now on. But if it does (horrible thought), we would definitely have to make adjustments. Even the native plants are struggling this year. I only have a couple of spots with full sun. The rest is shaded (and this year, even the shaded parts are dry).

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  15. Not smiling at your expense but the title of the post set the tone. Glad that after all the worry not too much has been lost in scalding dry heat - not even most of the hydrangeas (tr. water vessels). How does your diary compare to last year - to the UK it is the complete opposite. Every day of rain and low temps - might have to start a water meadow

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    1. I know, it's kind of funny that I worried way too much. :) But now I'm more concerned for the area farmers, and my neighbors with sunny gardens who just can't keep up with the watering. Last year at this time I was posting about "perfect" weather in the 80s, so I guess it's time for me to suffer a bit. The complete opposite--nonstop rain is unpleasant, too, but I'm sure the plants are happier. A water meadow--sounds like a fun plan!

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  16. I'm nodding my head to Toni's comment. Although distressing and heart breaking, your garden will be stronger for it and your admiration and appreciation for the tough plants will cause you to beam! And fall will never have felt so good!!

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    1. Amen to your last sentence! I've never looked forward to fall as much as I am already this year. My first summer with hot flashes and it has to fall during the hottest summer since 1936! :) I know you've been through one of the toughest droughts ever, Cat. And your garden certainly looks healthy and strong this year. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  17. With our heat my water bill rivals the GNP of a small country. Very sad! I agree with everyone that suggests you replace the plants that die with more of the ones that didn't. Hydrangea don't like drought and can be big water babies.

    Here's a solution for your heat stressed plants: Add 1/4 cup epsom salts for every gallon of water along with several big glugs of liquid kelp. Drench the soil every two weeks. This will help them resist heat/drought stress and increases the cells ability to retain water. Within a few days, you'll see a difference and it may keep many of them alive. I learned this tip from a horticulturalist from the Nat'l Botanic Gardens in DC. It kept my heat/drought stressed dogwood tree alive and it was much stronger the following summer. Hang in there!

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  18. Wow, thanks for the great tips! I don't have much experience with this extreme heat/drought, so I appreciate your expertise. I'll check back for more information on the specifics.

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  19. Crape myrtles are great trees for the South. We hit 108 degrees in my part of Tennessee during the recent heat wave and we had about 8 days of record heat. Several of the crape myrtles that get partial shade never skipped a beat and just keep flowering. A few of the ones in full afternoon sun did get a bit droopy and stopped flowering temporarily, but with just one brief rainfall (about 1/3 inch) and cooler temps (highs ~90) they have perked up and look ready to start flowering again.

    Are all hydrangeas really that thirsty? I know that the 'hydra' in their name signifies they like water. I wanted to plant some this fall, but on the other hand, I'm trying to create a very drought-tolerant garden. What about if they're in shade for much of the day?

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    1. Crepe Myrtles are fascinating bushes/trees. I really enjoyed photographing them. They would probably grow well here this summer, but might die during the winter. Glad to hear you got some rain. We still haven't had any and the forecast doesn't look good. Hydrangeas are great in climates with plenty of rain, but they don't survive drought without constant watering. In shade, they don't flower as much. Partial shade works well, but mine in partial shade need to be watered every day in this drought. Yes, they do suck up the water.

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