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Brenda's Garden
by Brenda Beust Smith

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ah, summer, what are you doing to Brenda's Garden?

"Heat, ma'am! it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones
."  ~Sydney Smith, Lady Holland's Memoir

DEAR BRENDA:  My hostas look awful, in fact, I don’t think they’re going to survive the summer. What can I do?  I’m new to the South.  Amy

DEAR AMY: I hope they’re in shade?  These plants definitely cannot take our summer sun.  Even in the shade, if kept well watered, they’re not going to be  happy with temperatures such as those we’ve been having. 

Keep watering and make sure they’re well mulched.  Mulch is almost more important in this area in the summer than it is in the winter.  It keeps the soil cooler and reduces moisture evaporation.. 


Oak leaves and pine needles will do or you can buy a bark mulch.  As these decompose, they add organic matter to your soil, and organic matter holds moisture in an efficient form for plant roots to access.  So you really want that around your hostas.


Whatever you do, don’t fertilize.  Fertilizer triggers top growth which will require more root growth underneath to sustain it.  The plant is somewhat dormant because of the heat (just as it goes dormant in winter) and won’t appreciate that new top growth one bit.


Pretty soon (I promise!) it will get cooler and it should perk up.  I sure hope so.  Mine is about 10 years old and every summer I pray it won’t die.  Now that summers are getting hotter, I don’t know how long it will last. 



DEAR BRENDA:  I’ve been watering my dianthus like crazy but they still look awful.  Will they survive the summer? A. J.


DEAR A. J.:  Water helps, but it won’t compensate for the high temperatures.  See the answer above about mulching.  And as with hostas, be patient.


If it dies -- assuming our blistering summers are going to become commonplace -- consider filling in with a flower that’s more heat hardy here, something like Mexican zinnia, scavola, blue daze, lantana, plumbago or bulbine. 

DEAR BRENDA:  My lantana looks awful!  It did so well for most of the summer and now all of a sudden it has stopped blooming and looks peaked.  Jo

DEAR JO:  I know exactly what you mean. Mine  has done the same thing.  Don't worry.  It's just smarter than we are.  You know the old saying: Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun?  Well, add crazy gardeners to that too.

Plants know when it's too hot for their roots to cope, so they curl up their leaves to reduce moisture evaporation.  That's called wilting, and it's often mistaken for dying.  The plant isn't dying.  It's being intelligent.

Water regularly, but don't drown the plant, because in this dormant stage, it doesn't need as much water as it would if its leaves were open high and flat to the sun.  Then give it time and respect its ability to handle itself.

Overnight it should perk up and look better in the morning.  That's the key, what it looks like in the morning, not in the late afternoon. 

If it's still badly wilted in the morning, then you know there's root damage from the heat (and possibly lack of water).  Water gently and hope it can pull itself together again.  A lot depends on how healthy the plant's root system was before it started succumbing to heat prostration.

Good luck!  Lantanas are usually pretty hardy here so there's a good chance it will come back out.

DEAR BRENDA: I remember a church on West Alabama that had this huge wall of plumbago, almost two stories high.  Was this a different kind of plumbago than we usually grow?  I thought this was a shrub not a vine.  I have a fence I'd love to cover with plumbago vine.  SAM

DEAR SAM:  No, it was our old common plumbago.  I know right where you mean.  West Alabama and Woodhead, wasn't it?  I haven't been by there in years, so I don't know if that plumbago wall's still there or not. 

I had a plumbago that climbed up over some arches, fighting for space with my Rangoon creeper.  The plumbago won, so I had to start cutting it back.

The trick is to plant plumbago flush with your fence.  Start weaving the branches up into the wire.  Any branches that want to grow horizontally, snip off.  The more horizontal branches you snip off, the longer the vertically-directed ones will be. 

In the case of that church wall, they had it planted in a ground spot that was, as I recall, very narrow, so they really had no room for horizontal growth at all.  I suspect they cut the lower front protruding branches back regularly, and that's why the ones in the back, that were growing up the wrought iron wall, were so extra long.  It was spectacular. 

It seems to me that the blue plumbago climbs better than the white.  You won't be able to find any white anyway.  I've bought it all up.

P.S.  Don't miss new posts. Make the Lazy Gardener's Blog ( your home page.

Brenda Beust Smith (Features > Brenda's Garden)
Email Brenda for list of area gardening/environmental speakers ($5) andlist of her topics for garden club presentations ($250-$300)


"THE LAZY GARDENER'S GUIDE ON CD" — a gardening book on CD offers gardening tips plus 12 pre-designed gardens for butterflies, hummers, sun, shade and more. Monthly what-to-do reminders for Greater Houston/Gulf Coast gardens. $20 each. Make checks payable to Brenda B. Smith & mail to: Lazy Gardener's Guide on CD, 14011 Greenranch,
 Houston, TX 77039-2103.

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