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.
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.
Continuing on the theme of color during the winter blahs, there are other ways of having color without flowers. Evergreens are the most common. However, some evergreens may also change color during cold weather. One of my favorite plants in my native garden is a white pine called Hillside Winter Gold. As cold weather starts to affect it, the needles start turning yellow. I have mine planted in a bed of Muhly grass. In the fall, the muhly grass seed heads turn pinkish of purple depending on your viewpoint. This contrasts nicely with the yellowing needles of the Hillside Winter Gold pine. As the cold weather continues, the needles turn more yellow and the muhly grass seed heads turn tan. I also have a viriginia pine called Wates Golden that also turns yellow in cold weather. The color is not as intense as the Hillside but it is usually attractive in it’s own right. These plants are barely noticed during the summer months but stand out quite nicely during the winter months. With warm weather, the needles turn back to green and they graciously slip back into the background and surrender the spotlight to the spring flowers.
This time of year, people think there is nothing to do in the garden. However, this is a very important time of year to study the basic design of your garden. This is the time of year to take notes on the skeleton or backbone of your garden. The bare bones so to speak, of your garden are quite obvious right now. Take a look around. Do you have enough evergreens to give color year round? Do those evergreens help define the smaller spaces within the garden? Evergreen plants also help provide cover for birds and other wildlife. They also help to block winds and can actually help to keep organic material in the form of fallen leaves in the garden rather than blowing onto neighboring property. A garden that looks quite good in the summer can look quite bare in the winter if care is not made with planting choices. I believe a garden is best when it changes throughout the seasons. A garden that looks the same year round is boring in my opinion. I try to have blooming plants on every day of the year. Last year I achieved that and so far this year, I have blooms every day. This winter has been a little tougher than normal in central North Carolina so it has been hard to do. Currently I have Yuletide Sasanqua blooming and also my swamp jessamine growing on my arbor leading to the native garden. Winter color is also helped by berries on the hollies and hawthorns. Some evergreens turn colors other than green with the onset of cold weather. All of this creates interest in a season which most gardeners tend to overlook. So take a look at your garden and make notes as to the places you can add color once the weather is more conducive to planting.