Cool Plants For A Hot Summer

May 18, 2012
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By Mary Ann Bourbeau

Area gardeners recommend plants, flowers that are heat and drought resistant

Will the warm winter translate into a warmer-than-usual summer? Many people believe it will, but it’s hard to say for sure.

To play it safe, homeowners might want to plan their gardens with the possibility of a hot and/or dry summer in mind.

A selection of sun-loving plants, top row from left, lilium (butter pixie), nepita (walkers low), amsonia, blue-eyed grass and lilium (peach pixie); bottom row, blue fescue grass.

“We really should have a crystal ball to predict this summer’s behavior,” said Gotti Kelley, a board member of the Garden Club of New Jersey’s Central Atlantic Region and past president of the Navesink Garden Club. “I am tempted to say that it will be a challenging summer.”

What can a gardener do to prepare for this?

“If you are fortunate to have mature trees that have weathered many difficult years, you are assured of shade, which is ideal for shade-loving native plants,” Kelley said. “These perennials can endure tough periods and should be a mainstay in every garden.”

Kelley recommends durable, tough perennials such as Monarda, Artemisia, Sedum, Coreopsis, Achillea, Liatris and Rudbeckia.

“These plants will fare well during a hot dry summer,” she said. “Divas that require constant watering attention should not be considered.”

Kelley warned that gardeners should not allow themselves to be lulled into complacency because the area recently had several inches of rain during the past few weeks.

“Extended dry periods during this summer are to be expected,” she said.

For this, Kelley suggests Vinca, Lysimachia and Ajuga – ground covers that are durable, undemanding and perennially reliable.

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“They do very well in dry conditions,” she said.

Kelley said that graceful grasses could easily weather a drought. They provide four seasons of interest, mix well in borders and have great hardiness and longevity. They are also largely deer-resistant and a haven for birds and wildlife.

“They range from very small, such as Mondo grass, to giants of 16 or more inches, making a dramatic exclamation point,” Kelley said. “Landscaping with ornamental grasses should be of interest to any gardener.”

For those who prefer colorful annuals on a scorching patio, be aware that they must be watered daily, preferably in the early morning or evening to prevent evaporation.

“When annuals let their pretty heads hang down, they signal ‘water me,’ ” Kelley said.

She recommends Supertunias, which come in spectacular color groups and are very heat- and drought-tolerant.

“They look great mixed with Helichrysum and Coral Bells,” she said.

Nancy Schmaltz, a Monmouth County Master Gardener and member of the Shrewsbury Garden Club, is already preparing for the possibility of a dry summer. Her garden club recently held a workshop during which participants made their own rain barrels.

“Generally I think it would be good to be prepared for water restrictions by starting to conserve water, especially rain water,” she said.

Schmaltz has some advice on which plants would thrive best if the summer is indeed dry.

“Specifically, I think using native plants in the landscape is a clever way to work with Mother Nature,” said Schmaltz. “Instead of planting water thirsty plants, choose those that are suitable for the long haul and, once established, will thrive on less water. The colorful annuals that are out now are hard to resist but are definitely water hogs, especially if planted in containers instead of in the ground. So use them judiciously and water them with the water collected in a rain barrel.

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Whether the summer will be hot and dry is anybody’s guess. Even New Jersey State Climatologist David Robinson doesn’t know for sure.

“We have been warm in New Jersey for quite some time now,” Robinson said. “The last 15 months have been above average and summers have been on the rise in terms of temperatures. But there’s no way I can say we’re in for a hot summer. Given what we’ve seen in recent months and summers, the odds are in our favor that it would be warmer than average. But there’s not a lot of success forecasting weeks and months ahead, despite what some people might say. Two weeks ahead is about all you can get a good feel for.”

While predicting temperature far in advance is difficult, forecasting rainfall is even harder, Robinson said.
According to Robinson, 2011 was the wettest year on record in New Jersey. “But so far, the first four months of 2012 have been the fourth driest start to a year since 1895, the year they started keeping records,” he said. “While past temperatures might be an indicator of what to expect this summer, precipitation is not so easy to predict. There’s a lot of inherent randomness in terms of how the atmosphere behaves.”

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