Thoughts on how to create a well-designed garden retreat.

Posts tagged “drought resistant plants

Southern Summer-time Slowdown

Many people stereotype southerners as slow or living a slower paced life.  With the heat and humidity of the South, it’s not laziness, it’s survival.  The biggest garden chores in the summer are watering and weeding.  You can plant year-round in the South but a lot of people hold off planting in the summer.  Summer heat is stressful for plants.  It takes a lot of water for plants in their first year in the garden and especially so in the summer.  You will always have a “first” summer for any plant in your garden.  This is often the most critical time in getting a plant acclimated to your garden.

The other main chore of the summer is weeding.  Tree seedlings can soon turn your garden into a forest.  I also make sure any invasive exotic plants that are seeding into the garden are removed immediately.  My definition of a weed is “a plant out of place”.  Some ornamental plants are appreciated when they seed in and fill in a space.  Others can take over a planned garden.  When I first moved into my current home, I removed every invasive exotic plant from my rear garden.  When I was done, I only had one tree left.  It was a jungle of invasive plants.  In many urban areas, it is a constant battle keeping out these types of plants that someone in the past thought it was a good idea to plant.  Even if you don’t have them in your yard, they often seed in from the neighbors.  Education is important.  Gently encourage your neighbors to also remove invasive plants.  They may or may not listen.  The more people who understand the damage done to the environment by invasive exotic plants, the better for future generations.

During the summer, take notes on any time period that your garden doesn’t seem to have blooming flowers.  You can sit in the comfort of your air conditioning and plan for buying plants to fill those gaps.  You might notice that you have too much of one color and not of another.  You might find areas where you have a lot of weeds because your garden isn’t planted thick enough to discourage weeds.  Sit back with your favorite cold beverage and look at the plant catalogs and online information to plan what you want to plant at the first sign of cooler weather in the fall.  If you can plant early in the fall, you will get some good new growth before winter and the plant will be further established by the time next summer rolls around.  Then when the heat and humidity of the next summer has you feeling lazy, you can look at your garden with more enjoyment and less work.



Redbud trees are usually the first blooming trees people notice in the spring.  They bloom just before the dogwoods and often the end of their bloom overlaps the start of the dogwood bloom.  They are understory trees and usually are most noticeable along the edges of woods.  This tells you a lot about where they are happiest to grow.  However, people do grow them out in full sun.

Jaliya’s Memorial Garden has 6 different cultivars of redbud.  The most common variety is the Forest Pansy Redbud.  This redbud grows to a typical redbud size but the leaves start out as a Reddish/Purple color.  They will keep the purple color for a while into the season before turning a dark green.

Forest Pansy Redbud with new leaves.

Their is a new purple leaved Redbud called Merlot.  It is said to hold the purple leaf color longer into the season.

Another Redbud in the Garden is Called Hearts of Gold.  The leaves on this plant start out a yellow color and stay light green all season.  This helps the plant to stand out in the shade or with a dark background.

Hearts of Gold Redbud

Another Redbud in the garden is Floating Clouds Redbud.  This redbud has leaves that are variegated with white.

Floating Clouds Redbud

There is another White variegated leafed redbud called Silver Clouds.

Another Redbud in the garden is the Rising Sun Redbud.  I have had this one less than a year.  The leaves on it come out yellow and even orange in the spring.  I am told it will hold these colors all season.

Rising Sun Redbud

I have two weeping Redbuds in the Garden.  The first is a weeping redbud with the typical green leaves.  The second is called Ruby Falls.  It has purple leaves like the Forest Pansy or Merlot.

Green Weeping Redbud

A very young Ruby Falls Redbud

All of these Redbuds have the reddish purple flowers.  There is a redbud with white flowers.  There are also cultivars of Redbud from the texas subspecies of Redbud that have shinier leaves than their eastern counterparts.

So choose one or more redbuds for early spring  flower color.  The flowers may only last a couple of weeks but with the new cultivars out there you can have more seasonal interest than just flowers.

Native or not?

There is a new residential development in our area that advertises that they are green and use native plants.  This excited me because having a whole neighborhood that was planting natives could show how attractive a native community could be and such a large area of natives would be a seed source for natives to be reintroduced into the natural landscape.

Imagine my surprise when I drove through this neighborhood and had a hard time finding these native plants.  I had a couple customers referred to me in this neighborhood and their front yards were already planted by the landscaper hired by the builder.  NOT ONE native plant was in these front yards.  The clients were surprised to hear this.

So I found out the name of the GUY IN CHARGE of selling lots in the development and gave him a call.  He told me that they did plant native.  When I told him what I saw he said well they plant SOME native.  When I pressed further, he said well they plant drought-tolerant and maybe in order to do that, they had to plant some non-natives.  You do not have to plant non-natives to have drought tolerant plantings.  Many natives are drought tolerant because every where has the occasional drought and the natives in that location survive.  Then he said that azaleas are native.  I told him that some azaleas are native but the ones that are here are deciduous.  The evergreen azaleas common in the south come from Japan.  He still insisted that they are native because they are everywhere.  That is the same as saying European- and African-Americans are Native Americans.  He then got short with me and said he had heard enough.  He did not want to hear the truth any more.  He wanted to go on believing that he was being responsible to the environment and planting native plants.  I feel he is lying to prospective buyers.

The term NATIVE when it comes to plants means that it is indigenous to the area.  When I plant “native”, I include plants that are indigenous to the Southeast US with the exception of South Florida.  This gives me an expanded palette of plants to choose from above what is indigenous to Durham, NC.

The term NATURALIZED means that the plant came from another part of the world but has moved into the natural environment on it’s own.  So the Japanese Azaleas are not even naturalized as they do not seed into the woods.   Privet is naturalized as it comes up on it’s own all over the woods.  It is in fact an invasive exotic.  Some 20% of the plants found in the woods are invasive exotics that should not be there.  Up to 30% are NATURALIZED, invasive or not.  NATURALIZED plants are NON-NATIVE!

Most plants sold by plant nurseries are in fact NON-NATIVE.  Care must be taken when planting non-natives to not introduce them into the wild.  Most of the native plants in the wild are nearly non-existent except for the native trees.  Many wildflowers and native shrubs are hard to find in their native habitats any more due to farming practices and clear-cutting.  Native plants are usually limited in the wild to steep slopes and swamps where man could not farm.

Planting natives today means you are helping to reintroduce the native plants into your area and hopefully they will once again be seeding in and sprouting up in their native habitats they used to enjoy.  Calling a plant native when it is not does not make it so.


I attended a lecture yesterday evening about historic preservation.  A recurring theme was that sustainability begins with historic preservation.  A lot of energy went into building the original buildings, and while it may be quicker to tear down a building than restore it, there is still all the energy and materials that has to go into building a new building.  All the efforts of previous generations to build the building are wasted.

It is similar in a garden.  It takes time to grow a tree.  Many times, a tree you plant, you will not see in it’s mature state.  You do plant for the future.  But care has to be taken to plant the right tree in the right place, the first time.  Before you plant a tree, take the time to look at full grown trees of the same kind.  Does your space allow for the size of that tree?  If not, you are wasting today’s resources on something a future person will have to remove.

So many times I see a plant that naturally grows 15′ tall in front of a window that begins 4 feet off the ground.  Eventually that plant will block the window.  Often people will say, “Oh I can just prune it.”  You are fighting nature.  Nature always wins in the end.  A lot of energy will go into fighting to keep that plant in a manageable size.  It is better to plant something that will only reach 4 or 5′ high in that spot.

The same goes for growing grass under the shade of a tree.  It’s an uphill battle.  Plants that like full sun could eventually be shaded by the growing tree you just planted.  Now sometimes you will have to plant filler plants to take that space while the tree is young.  Just make sure you realize they will not be there long term and don’t plant your favorites in that spot.

Another way to make gardening easier is to plant plants native to your area.  Plants from your area are conditioned to the natural weather patterns of the area.  However, there are micro-climates in any region.  The plant still needs similar growing conditions to where it grows in the wild.  Factors to consider are moisture, sunlight, and exposure.  Paying attention to all these factors will make gardening more pleasant, less work and more sustainable.

Brown turns to Black

I know I recently wrote about the fire dangers of pinestraw year round and bermuda grass in the winter.  Just this weekend, a grass fire broke out in Wakefield Plantation, which is a upper end neighborhood on the north side of Raleigh near Wake Forest.  I have done work in this neighborhood but have not been over to see the fire damage.  I have watched news reports though and believe what I saw on TV backs up what I have been saying.  The golf course has a lot of bermuda grass as many of them do in this area.  Most of the lawns at the homes around the golf course have fescue.  Homeowners fought off the flames with garden hoses.  But it was also obvious that they had green lawns.  The green grass helped keep the fire from spreading and burning their homes.  The bermuda grass is totally brown this time of year and the fire spread quickly.  I do not recommend planting bermuda grass any where but especially near a home.

A couple of summers ago, Raleigh had a major fire near some town homes.  Many people lost everything.  The fire spread there with help from dry pinestraw.  Raleigh has since banned the use of pinestraw near residences.  I would not use it either even if it is allowed in my area.  We have had droughts several times over the past few years.  I would rather save my house rather than saving a little money on landscaping.

Hey, Buddy. Can you score me some grass?

Ok, I might be showing my age, most people call it weed today.  Then again, my definition of a weed is “a plant out of place.”  Most lawn grasses used around here are not indigenous to this area.  This area was once the “Great Southeast Forest”.  There was no open grass areas to speak of.  There are some native grasses, carex that grows naturally in the woods.  So maybe a grass lawn should be considered a weed patch.

Fescue is the most common lawn grass in the Durham, NC area.  It is a “cool season” grass which means it actively grows during cooler weather and stops growing in hot weather.  For this reason, it is fertilized 3 times a year on the following easy to remember schedule.  Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s Day.  It has a hard time surviving our hot dry summers and therefore should be allowed to slow down growth during the summer.  It should be mowed as high as possible, watered deeply rather than frequently, and mulch the clippings back into the grass.  It does not do well under shade trees as it has to compete with tree roots for moisture during the summer.  It also needs at least a half day of sun.

Another grass seen in this area is Bermuda grass.  Obviously by it’s name, it does not belong here.  Bermuda grass is called a “warm season” grass.  This means it goes dormant during cold weather and is only actively growing during the warmer months.  Bermuda also spreads by runners.  This means that it goes everywhere it can.  It spreads into your planting beds and the neighbor’s yard.  In my opinion, which is always what this blog is about, no one should ever allow bermuda to spread into their neighbor’s yard.  It is not at all neighborly to do so.  If you want to fight it growing into your own planting beds that is one thing.  But you should not inflict that upon your neighbor.  Once bermuda has gotten a foothold, it is difficult to remove.  You must remove every single piece of it as it can grow back from a single node.  These nodes are what looks like elbows on the runner.  They are often about every inch apart along the stem.  Bermuda also turns brown during the winter.  In my opinion, there is enough brown during the winter without also having a brown lawn.

Zoysia is also seen occasionally around here.  Zoysia is another “warm season” grass that spreads by runners.  It is a very tightly grown grass feeling like a thick carpet when you walk on it.  It is totally brown in the winter as well.

We have had problems with brush fires around here lately due to the dry winter we have had.  Brown grass for a lawn can help these fires to spread just like pinestraw can.  Last week, Interstate 40 was blocked between Durham and Chapel Hill due to the grass being on fire.  I’m sure it was bermuda grass that burned.  I can’t imagine fescue being on fire during the winter when it is green.

All lawn grasses in this area have their own drawbacks.  If you must have a green lawn though, fescue is the best choice.  It is greener for the longest time of the year and it doesn’t spread into your planting beds by runners.  By all means, don’t waste time trying to grow any lawn in the shade.  It takes way too much work and my view is that a garden should be a little work and a lot of enjoyment.

Water in winter

Nearly all of my customers at one point ask me about watering their new plants.  Many of them ask for drought resistant plants.  Even drought resistant plants need regular watering through out their first year in the garden.  A mistake I found out this morning that I made in my own garden was not paying attention to all of my evergreen plants.  I found a native juniper that was a rare variety in my garden that was crispy.  I planted it during the summer and kept it alive with regular watering.  However, we have had a dry winter and I failed to water it enough.  I’m afraid it may be history.  Yeah, even landscapers kill plants.  Evergreen plants still need to be watered in the winter.  Especially if they have only been planted in the past year.  It is easy to not think about watering during the winter.  It’s cold and many times you might get cloudy drizzly weather.  However drizzle does not produce much water for the plants.  I’d like to say that I have learned my lesson, but it will probably happen again.  Hopefully less often.