Friday, November 18, 2011

Survivor: Texas (Garden Edition)

Now that the record-breaking summer of 2011 is safely behind us, I got to thinking....if gardening during a Texas summer were a TV reality show, could you bear to watch?   Oh, there would be plenty of drama, that's for sure, with lots of whining and crying and pouting.  Sadly, though, there wouldn't be much singing or dancing.  In fact, most episodes would seem rather dry.  Everything would be in need of an Extreme Makeover, and you'd end up feeling like the Biggest Loser. But one thing you could count on is that it would be very hot and steamy.   So tune in, you may even find a new Idol and a few Survivors.

Seriously, though, the reality of a Texas summer is that it is just plain HOT.   And the Summer of 2011 was the hottest of 'em all.  Yes, Dallas/Fort Worth is now officially in the record books as the summer with the most 100-degree days.  70 days.  I finally feel vindicated for all of that whining, crying, and pouting!

1980 still holds the record for the most consecutive 100-degree days (42), but 2011 missed it by just two days and a few degrees. Hopefully that torch has been extinguished, never to be lit again.

Needless to say, this hot and dry summer episode took its toll on our gardens.   Yet in spite of it all, there are SURVIVORS.

The words “water restrictions” seem to strike fear in the heart of every gardener.    Don’t spend the next summer season battling the elements.   Turn the challenges of this summer into opportunities to make your garden better by choosing more drought-tolerant plants that have proven their worth.

Let's take a look at some of the players, marooned in the seemingly desolate locale otherwise known garden.   My “tribes” of plants faced daily endurance challenges and overcame many obstacles, yet some seemed immune to elimination.

Since I am the sole member of my garden's “Tribal Council” and “jury,” here’s a list of the plants that were star performers in my garden this summer and are deserving of my vote.

Salvias are the workhorses of my garden!

'Henry’ and ‘Augusta’ Duelberg (Salvia farinacea)
Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)
Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

  Zexmenia (Wedelia hispida) is extremely drought tolerant

'Azure Skies' Heliotrope blooms all summer and attracts bees

Purple Heart
(Tradescantia or Setcreasea pallida) 
is tough as nails!

 Ornamental grasses are must-haves!

Mexican Feathergrass (Nasella tenuissima)
Hameln Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’
Lindheimer’s Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)
Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ (Dwarf Maiden Grass)
Black Fountain Grass (Pennisetum ‘Moudry’)
Fountain grass ‘Karley Rose’ (Pennisetum orientale 'Karely Rose')

 'Karley Rose' beat the heat with ease!

More great plants for SUN:

Pink Skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens)
Dwarf Mexican Petunia (Katie’s Ruellia)
‘Powis Castle’ Artemisia
Mexican Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)
Lantana camara
Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
Gray Creeping Germander
Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida)
Rudbeckia ‘Triloba’
Flame Acanthus (Anisacaths wrightii)
Texas Star Hibiscus
‘Bath’s Pink’ Dianthus
Four Nerve Daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa)
Variegated Liriope ‘Silvery Sunproof’ (with afternoon shade)
Pink Rain Lily (Zephyranthes grandiflora)
Yaupon Holly
Burford Holly
‘Gulfstream,’ ‘Nana,’ and ‘Harbor Dwarf’ Nandina
Yaupon Holly tree
Crape Myrtles
Redbuds: ‘Burgundy Heart,’ ‘The Rising Sun,’ and ‘Oklahoma’
Rose of Sharon (Althea)

Lots of shady characters were star performers as well

Native Turk’s Cap
(Malvaviscus arboreus) 
attracts hummingbirds

Another native, American Beautyberry 
(Callicarpa americana), 
attracts our feathered friends

Hostas absolutely fried, but Leopard Plant (Ligularia/Farfugium) survived with no special care

African Hosta
(Drimiopsis maculata) 
is not bothered by slugs, snails, or heat

 More great plants for SHADE:

Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)
Oakleaf Hydrangea
Chocolate plant (Pseuderanthemum alatum)
Purple Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis)
Forsythia Sage (Salvia Madrensis)
Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
Purple Heart (green variety)
'Tropical Giant' Spider Lily (Hymenocallis)
Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis)
Ajuga ('Giant,' 'Chocolate Chip')
Cherry Laurel

Heat Loving Annuals
Vinca (periwinkles)
Angelonia ‘Serena’ series

Blue Daze (Evolvulus glomeratus) loved the heat!

Variegated Tapioca (Manihot esculenta) was still going strong in mid-August!

Caladiums can't be beat
for a shady spot.

More great annuals for sun and shade:

Salvia coccinea (red and ‘Coral Nymph’)
Malabar Spinach (vine)
Esperanza (Tecoma stans)
‘African Blue’ Basil
Holy Basil
Lemon Verbena
Sweet Potato Vine
Perilla magilla
Hyacinth Bean Vine
Ornamental peppers
Pentas (in afternoon shade)
Begonias (shade)

Some of my plants got sent to Redemption Island.   They started out strong, but then quickly burned out when the heat was intense.   After a disappointing debut, they have redeemed themselves this fall showing some recovery now that cooler temperatures and some rains have returned.

Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’)
Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
Black & Blue Salvia (Salvia guaranitica )
Lamb’s Ear ‘Helen von Stein’
Wood Fern (Dryopteris)
'Texas Gold' Colubmine (Aquilegia chrysantha hinckleyana)
‘Gold Dust’ Aucuba
Autumn Joy Sedum
Knock-Out Rose 'Rosa Radrazz'

Unfortunately some plants went to Dead Man’s Island:

Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’
Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum)
‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangea is on its last legs

Thankfully the list of winners is much longer than the list of losers (hence this ridiculously long post).  If any plant survived the Winter and Summer of 2011, it is a keeper in my book.  If this challenging summer (and winter) has wreaked havoc in your garden, incorporate some of these well-adapted plants into your garden. Fall is a great time to get new plantings established before we have a re-run of this season’s fiery episodes next summer.   Make some changes to your garden now and you will be rewarded next year with a garden that not only survives; it thrives!

All indications are that this drought in Texas may persist for another two years. Don't let that news make you wish you could escape to Exile Island.  A few wise choices can make a drought-tolerant and heat-loving garden a beautiful reality.

If you are still reading up to this point, you deserve some bonus points!   Here is a list of some other survivors recommended by a few of my garden friends:

Duranta erecta (Brazillian Sky Flower)
Aggie Cotton
Texas Sage (Cenizo)
Day Lilies
Thai Basil
Moss rose and purselane
Gregg’s Blue Mistflower
Fall Aster (Aster oblongifolius)
Candle Tree
Purple Coneflower
Passion Vine
Woolly Stemodia (Stemodia tomentosa)
Pidgeon Berry
Inland Sea Oats (Casmanthium latifolium)

Congratulations on surviving through the Summer of 2011 and this long post!

Toni :-)


  1. Great post Toni! That photo of the garden behind your house is fantastic... I love the stone with the plantings in between! Larry

  2. This is a great post even if I don't live in Texas anymore! I think we can all take lessons from your summer of 2011! Great list of plants for sun and shade. Thank you!

  3. Good, very informative post. I couldn't agree more with your conclusions.

  4. Wow, this is very helpful! Especially the list of heat-loving annuals. American Beautyberry sure is a stunner! I'm thinking I might be too far north to grow it, but I'm seeing it all over the garden blogosphere as a recommended plant, and it's lovely. Thanks for the helpful info!

  5. It's incredible that you have such a long list of plants that did well, considering how brutal your summer was. I finally found Purple Heart plant here. They keep it in the greenhouse with the tropicals! I'm going to put some in a pot next summer. The one silver lining to adversity is it weeds out the tough from the wimpy. Last years wimps are composted to feed this years toughies!! Actually, that sounds a bit canabalistic! :o)

    The turkey flippers from Williams Sonoma are fabulous. They are big and thick and can lift my 24 lb bird w/o a problem. I have a rack in my roaster so all the drippings stay in the pan. If I had to put it all in a bag and then risk hot turkey juice running down my arm when I flipped the bird (ha ha!), we might end up ordering a pizza!! :o)

  6. Such an incredibly important post and funny too. The only sustainable approach to gardening is too plant plants that don't require watering no matter where you are or what weather conditions you are experiencing.

  7. Indeed...a VERY valuable post for those who suffered during this crazy summer. I'v very hopeful that Portland doesn't eventually share the same fate...but with continuing climate change, you just never know what to expect! Even though Portland doesn't get the blazing temps of Texas, we get absolutely no rain at all from about July 1 to October plants that can go without too much water during the growing season are a definite plus! I'm definitely keeping this post bookmarked for future reference!

  8. Gorgeous garden! I see why you love all these salvias. I have several varieties, and they are lovely.

  9. Hi Toni... this is in response to the question you psoted on my site... cattleyas generally need transplanting every two years. Phalaenopsis perhaps once a year. It's best to transplant just after the bloom period is done. Growing orchids in Texas is probably considerably different from growing them in Wisconsin. I'm lucky enough to have a 'go to' website specific to our area. I'm a newbie although I did have orchids 30 years ago when I had an attached greenhouse on the house... I really miss that situation. I think I've got the 'orchid bug' again as I've collected sixty plants in the past year or so!

  10. Your garden is gorgeous. Just looking at your photos I would never suspect the terrible heat and drought the plants have come through. I was taking notes as I read your post. I have added several of your survivors to my own list for my woodland garden.

  11. Fun post! Very clever. I read with interest your experiences with your plants, as I am afraid we will see drought and heat again next year. The lake levels here are still dropping, and I am worried mostly about the trees and my parent's shallow well. I'm impressed that you have such a long list of "Texas tough" plants!

  12. I'm glad I didn't have to garden in Texas, but it is great to get a first hand report of what works in the heat and drought.

  13. A creative summary of the season. Based on the photos, the garden appears to be a winner.

  14. You're always so funny! I've gotta try that Leopard plant for my shady areas...really nice texture and a little pop of color.

  15. Toni, if anyone can make a declaration for the toughest plants of all, it would be you. This is a list to believe! How amazing that melampodium does so well in both of our climates. I didn't have much luck at all with the angelonia or the Blue Daze, must be we don't get hot enough. (It can't be that I don't know what I'm doing.) On second thought, yes, it could be. That's probably it.

    Fantastic Reality Gardening Episode, Toni!

  16. Great post Toni! It is reassuring to see the daylilies recouperating. Loving the Mexican salvia, hummingbird bush and lantanas right now. My Autumn Joy Sedum is starting to lose its luster but I see 100's of little babies.
    We need to keep your lists handy.

  17. Excellent. Ideas! I live in kamloops b. C. Canada and we get temperatures as high as 38 degrees in the summer and lows of minus 30 in the winter (Celsius) so finding perennials are a challenge. Many great choices to plant this spring

  18. Finally got our new house built(survived 2011 in an R.V. here in Wimberley, TX!)and am looking forward to getting hands dirty in our OWN dirt!! What a helpful,comprehensive and clever article--you probably have saved us hundreds on "experiments" as I 'want' seemingly 'everything'! A long frustrated gardener--could go overboard! This will help refine early choices--a lot of rain THIS year does NOT preclude dry years down the road-and losing landscaping is so heartbreaking...Thanks SO MUCH.

  19. Great post! Do you know anyone in the DFW area who could give advice on native landscaping? We've been dabbling in it but could use some tips for aesthetics. Thanks!

  20. I garden in San Antonio and am in the midst of a backyard redesign. This was such a helpful post. Thank you! I've added you to my regular reading list.


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