July 3, 2015
By Linda H. Yates
Melampodium adds a golden touch to drought stricken gardens. Their bright green leaves and a backdrop of grasses seem to defy the heat. Photo by Linda Yates.
Garden accessories such as thermometers, rain gauges and sprinklers are useful in coping with Tallahassee weather conditions, but the plants in your yard are quicker to tell you what a successful gardener needs to know.
A succession of mid-90 degree days with hot sun pouring down causes most of them to droop before noon. We caretakers escape to our air-conditioned houses, only returning to give the flowers a light sprinkle at sundown. Too frequently that has been the pattern in many gardens.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac started warning gardeners about growing conditions since its inception in 1792, long before America’s land grant colleges started agricultural and Master Gardener courses, and Tallahassee’s first television station hired Willie the Weatherman.
If we checked back issues of the little paperback book, the forecast for North Florida would most likely read similar to this year’s:
“Summer will be hotter than normal, with the hottest periods in late June, early to mid-July, late July, and late August. September and October will be warmer than normal. Rainfall will be below normal in the north….”
How do farmers, landscapers and plants survive? The Almanac doesn’t just forecast the weather, it tells us how to garden in it: “Make sure that crops have plenty of mulch during dry spells, continue to plant heat-loving herbs, water early in the morning and deeply….”
Fortunately for Floridians the University of Florida (a land grant institution) has an Agricultural Extension Service and Master Gardener programs in Florida counties offering advice for successful growing. Specific questions may be researched on the UF/Leon County Extension Office webpage http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu/
Generally, home gardeners may take the simple approach of replacing spring plants with heat and drought tolerate ones. There are many “tough as nails” flowers and shrubs that bloom all summer long no matter what. Others, such as some succulents, just keep on going even in wintertime. Then there are “natives” that endure heat or cold, year after year, proving that they belong here.
Want a plant that will bloom nonstop until late fall? Plant melampodium with sunshine yellow one-inch blossoms that thrives in hot, dry areas and is unattractive to insects and deer. Drop seeds in your flowerbed as spring flowers begin to fade or purchase plants at a nursery. This will be a one-time job; next year new seedlings will appear from this year’s blossoms.
Add more daylilies to the sunshiny mix. I like the foot tall, frequent-blooming varieties, like those planted in the median of Thomasville Road near I-10. The location proves their toughness. Stella ‘d’ Oro daylilies and similar varieties and other colors are adaptable to sun or part shade in well drained soil. Although drought tolerant, they will perform best in soil with lots of humus and occasional watering.
Another continuous bloomer during summer months is purple coneflower, native in many parts of the country and now hybridized to include yellow, orange, white and pink colors. Other good choices are black-eyed susans, zinnas, gaillardia and summer phlox for sunny areas, and ferns such as leatherleaf, Japanese painted fern, southern shield fern or maidenhair for shady areas. Amazingly, they never seem to mind the heat or ask for water (as if plants can talk!).
Even though it is hot and dry, take care of your hydrangeas and small shrubs such as Jacobinia. If they have some shade and water, they too will bloom all summer. Annuals and perennials that bloomed earlier in the spring may make a comeback if spent blossoms are removed and lanky stalks are cut back. Apply slow release granular fertilizer, refresh their mulch and water deeply. Don’t let the heat get you or your garden down!
Linda Yates is a Master Gardener volunteer with the UF/Leon County Cooperative Extension Service. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.go