“Getting to Know the Talladega National Forest”
Karen McKenzie, District Ranger
Sept 26th –
Hayes Jackson, ACES
Dates/speakers subject to change. Calhoun Co. Extension
Asclepsis tuberosa or butterfly weed is a wonderful addition to the summer garden. Its bright orange flowers are irresistible to butterflies, especially the monarch. Although the flowers lure the monarch butterfly, the monarch caterpillar eats nothing but the foliage of this particular plant. One morning I discovered that the caterpillar had eaten every single leaf. Normally I would be heart sick to see a plant damaged but the presence of a monarch in the garden is a gift.
Despite being called a weed (milkweed more specifically), I do not consider it a weed. As a matter of fact, it is a well-behaved, easy - to - grow, beautiful perennial in the garden. After the blooms fade, green seedpods take their place. The seeds do eventually migrate through the air; this plant, however, seems only to have spread in my garden by forming larger clumps. Butterfly weed prefers full sun, although mine is doing very well in part sun. It is not a drought tolerant plant, but enjoys water during dry times.
Ascelpsis tuberosa provides a double gift for the gardener. It not only attracts flights of butterflies to the garden, but it also brightens any flower bed.
Although the name ‘Endless Summer’ (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’) could suggest the title of a cable tv show or a soap opera, it is actually the name of a wonderful mophead hydrangea. What makes this hydrangea with its brilliant blue flowers so special is that it reblooms. It blooms on old and new wood in the same season, often blooming in early summer and then in fall. Another positive about ‘Endless Summer’ is that if a late frost kills the early blooms there will be more to follow. This easy- to-grow hydrangea likes the same things that other mopheads do: ample water (at least an inch per week), morning sun, and afternoon shade. Give it a good home in rich organic soil. If your soil is heavy, consider making a planting bed instead of just a single hole. Planting a hydrangea high as you would an azalea also will improve drainage. Just because a plant likes shade, planting it right next to a large tree is not often a good idea as the plant has to compete with the trees roots for nutrition and moisture. High shade in a yard is a blessing. A nice layer of mulch is always a good idea as it will help to conserve moisture and keep the soil cooler in the summer.
Pruning techniques for ‘Endless Summer’ are not difficult. Prune mopheads immediately after flowering. Because ‘Endless Summer’ reblooms, pruning it should occur in late summer to early fall. However, flower buds for the next season may begin to form from August to October so if yours needs pruning, you may have to sacrifice a few late flowers to get this garden task accomplished at the right time. It is a good idea to prune out all the dead canes and even to cut about one third of the older stems to the ground every year. This will encourage your hydrangeas to grow stronger, have a nicer shape, and have more flowers.
My mature ‘Endless Summer’ is about 5 feet high and almost that wide. It is a joy in the garden as the flowers look like jewels. With so many gorgeous hydrangeas on the market it is often difficult to choose a new one, but those that rebloom are a necessity for the summer garden, guaranteeing you a summer full of endless flowers.
These are hard days for gardeners. We have talked about the heat to everyone we meet and we are suffering through it as I write these words. I can’t remember days of continual 100 plus temperatures, This kind of heat probably has happened in other years, but, like many other bad memories, I have forgotten those times. I have not, however, forgotten the drought of a few years ago when my town of Jacksonville imposed watering restrictions. For a plant person this can spell disaster. We saved water from every possible indoor source and carried it outside in buckets. Hope we do not face that same situation this year.
By now, unless you have been watering your grass, it has turned an ugly shade of brown and is pretty crispy. It is not really dead, only dormant. As soon as it rains, it will green back up (unless it is a newly sodded lawn in which case the color may be a cry for help). Should you decide to water, please remember to water deeply and less often. Grass needs about an inch of moisture a week to look like a golf course. You can judge how much water your lawn is getting by setting empty tuna cans around to catch the water. The best time to water your lawn is between 4 and 9 am.
Although your lawn will bounce back from this drought and heat, these same conditions are much harder on many annuals and perennials, trees and shrubs, especially newly planted ones. Many or most annuals are water hogs. The sun coleus I planted are begging for a drink at least twice a day. The pentas are hanging their heads. If you put in new ornamental plants or trees last spring, they must have water to survive until they are settled in. Even those planted last winter need to be watered. Again water deeply and less often, early in the morning if possible. Watering at night may encourage the development of fungus and disease. By watering early you allow the foliage to dry. A good layer of mulch surely helps keep the soil from drying out as quickly (and keeps down the weeds). Overhead watering is never the best choice; drip irrigation wastes less water and gets the water where it is needed most – to the roots. Many of us, however, have the traditional over head irrigation systems in our yards – either through in ground sprinkler systems or rotating sprinklers. Some soaker hoses added to the mix will help.
Now is not the time to fertilize--struggling plants don't need encouragement to grow. They need to use their strength to survive. Good soil helps plants to be strong. Layers of compost mixed in the soil next winter will improve the structure of the soil and make it easier for water to reach the roots.
The use of drought tolerant plants in the landscape is certainly a solution to reducing our water usage. There are so many to choose from: sedums, agaves, yuccas, and even cactus. These laugh at the drought and the heat. These drought tolerant beauties also make wonderful container plantings. (Note to myself; do not plant three dozen sun coleus in pots and beds next year).
Be kind to yourself on these sweltering days. For us humans working in the garden in the early morning or early evening will be the healthiest for us. With a little patience we will survive another Alabama summer.