Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Sad Summer Story

Most gardeners of my acquaintance here don't celebrate summer.  Summer is not our friend.  By the time summer arrives, it's usually been dry for 3 months and we still face 4 or more months without rain.  Summer's heat makes a difficult situation even worse.  Unlike the beach city I used to live in, our current location on the east side of the South Bay peninsula doesn't benefit from western breezes off the ocean.  It's always been hot in the summer here but last Friday set a record for the 7 and a half years we've lived in this location.  After a pleasantly comfortable May and June, temperatures soared to 110F (43C).  My husband and I took refuge in an air conditioned house but my garden didn't get any relief.

Even with applications of supplemental water before and during the heatwave, the results aren't pretty.  The garden has suffered the impact of scorching heat before but this event matches or exceeds the horrific heatwave of 2016.  This time, the temperature peaked higher; that heat was sustained over a longer period; and it was accompanied by strong dry winds.

As mentioned in my last post, the first sucker punch was the sight of my Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt'.  Although temperatures moderated in the days following the 110F scorcher, the appearance of these plants has worsened.

Instead of emerald green foliage, 5 of the 6 plants in my garden are covered with bronze-brown leaves.  The plant with no afternoon sun exposure is the only one that's shown no sign of this damage.  The plant shown here has been in place since 2014 and my others were planted in 2012.  None have previously been scorched like this.


As I continued my survey yesterday, I saw this.  I was heartbroken.

The plant in the center of this photo is Metrosideros collinia 'Springfire'.  I'd coveted the tree-like shrub for years and finally planted one 18 months ago.  It'd gained size and flowered well this spring.  It looked fine when I took my wide shot photos earlier this month.  Can it recover?  I'm not sure but I'll give it a chance.


Some plants are just burnt.  Their foliage may look ugly for the rest of the season, but they should recover.

I pruned this Echium webbii of its dead flower spikes last month.   Its new growth fried.  Should I have pruned it sooner, or perhaps later? 

While a lot of Agapanthus flowers fizzled in the heat, most of the normally evergreen foliage held up reasonably well.  However, the clumps in full all-day sun with no wind protection didn't do as well.  It probably didn't help that this is one of the driest areas of the garden.

These large Agave attentuata came with the garden.  They benefit from a good deal of shade from the Arbutus 'Marina' above.  This is the first time I can recall that they've been sunburned.  Other succulents, especially the gold-toned Sedums, are also burnt.

Arthropodium cirratum (Renga Lily) is an evergreen bulb.  The flowers were dying back before the heatwave but the foliage dried out badly in its aftermath.

The Hong Kong orchid tree (Bauhinia x blakeana) usually drops leaves gradually at this time of year as the tree produces new green leaves.  I've never seen them turn gold in place like this.

This is Heuchera maxima, a California native.  I'll probably leave the foliage alone until the plant starts producing new growth, much as it pains me to look at it.


A lot of flowers fried.

The Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) that looked so good this year shriveled in place but I'm hoping that deadheading them will give me more flowers later in the season.  I don't have the same kind of hope for the Lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflorum) and some of the other flowering plants.


In other cases, the plants themselves were beaten down hard but I still expect them to recover in time.

Sadly, my new lath (shade) house didn't provide my plants with as much protection as I'd like.  I suspect the dry winds were the biggest problem.  The Begonias in particular were hit hard.  This photo shows a noID rex begonia before and after the heatwave.  The plant subsequently lost all but one leaf.  We'll see how the rest of the summer goes but Begonias may be a failed experiment.  Orchids I've had for years were also badly damaged.

Other damaged plants include, clockwise from the upper left: Acanthus spinosus, Alstroemeria 'Indian Summer', Fatsia japonica (shown in the lath house), and Hemerocallis 'Sammy Russell'.  The daylily foliage that turned bright yellow in response to the heat is now turning brown but there are already signs of new green growth.


Unfortunately, there are a few plants that look to be dead, or close to it.

It took me a minute to even identify this plant.  It's ribbon bush (Hypoestes aristata), a plant that grew well in my former garden.  It struggled here even before this heatwave struck and I think I'm going to give it up now.

The loss of some Salvias surprised me.  This is Salvia discolor, which I've had for several years.  Salvia macrophylla, also a long-time resident, is toast as well.


I find it hard avoid becoming fixated on what's ugly but I know I should celebrate the plants that came through the heatwave with their looks intact.  Some look great when viewed from a distance, although a close examination shows signs of stress.

Cuphea hybrid 'Starfire Pink' looked fine from a distance but, viewed up close, I found that its interior foliage was glowing red


Others plants just look great.  It's possible that some of these may show the ill effects later but 4 days out from the heatwave's peak, here are some of the those that were seemingly unfazed by the event.

Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' doesn't even show signs of tip burn on its new foliage

Maybe I haven't previously looked at it closely enough but I'd swear the Corokia x virgata 'Sunsplash' shown here has put on several inches of new growth this week

Unlike Echium webbii, Echium candicans 'Star of Madeira' is unscathed.  It cut back its flower spikes less than 2 weeks ago and it hasn't produced any substantial new growth yet.  It also gets a bit of shade from the nearby Magnolia

Gaura lindheimeri laughs in the face of heat.  The Agapanthus in partial shade in the background fared far better than the plants in full sun.

Leptospermum 'Copper Glow' is continuing to pump out sprays of flowers

The plants outside the lath house, like those in the window boxes and Euryops 'Sonnenschein' in the foreground, fared better than some of the plants inside

Leonotis leonurus is finally blooming

Pennisetum advena 'Rubrum' is also producing its first flowers

The gray-leafed Santolinas look perfect

Senecio candicans 'Angel Wings' was drooping at the height of the heatwave on Friday but I gave it a bottle (that dripped water to its roots) and it looks great thus far.  However, my other plant, in a pot near the front door, doesn't look as good.

Trichostema 'Midnight Magic' is blooming happily.  The flowers on the green-leafed Santolina could use some deadheading but the plants themselves are fine.

The 'Bright Star' Yuccas and Leucadendrons are doing just fine.  The first flush of flowers on the Achillea 'Moonshine' are turning beige but that's normal.  All the Gaillardia flowers withered in response to the intense heat but, with some deadheading, new flowers are already appearing.


So, post-heatwave, the garden presents a mix of good with the bad.  I'm trying to look at the event as a learning exercise.  Our temperature today is hovering near 90F (32C) as I complete this post.  We're hoping for slightly cooler temperatures next week but, as summer conditions can extend well into October here, I'm sure the heat will be back.  I just hope that we don't hit 110F again this year - or get any wildfires.


All material © 2012-2018 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

36 comments:

  1. I am so sorry. That's heartbreaking. My hope for you is that the plants will rebound and that the damage is only temporary.

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  2. Kris, I am so sorry. I am familiar with the terrible effects ofa harsh summer on a garden and we are hopeless against climate. I hope the heatwave subsides soon and the cool days of autumn come earlier for your garden this year.

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    1. Thankfully, it has cooled a bit, MDN, although all work in the garden is still confined to early morning and late afternoon.

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  3. Even though I don't live where it gets as hot as 110, or have to deal with year-round drought, I am also not a summer celebrant. Give me a cool, misty rain or an overcast day and I'm happy. I'm so sorry you;ve lost so many plants, and have so many that will look ugly for a while until they recover. That's hard to cope with, I would be so impatient to trim off that dead foliage, but it will probably protect the plant if temps soar again. I'm also amazed at the ones that took it in stride.

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    1. I tend to be an overly neat gardener so I'm fighting against that predilection. If it wasn't entirely stupid to plant anything during our summer months, you know I'd be tearing things out and replanting.

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  4. I really felt like we were out of the woods but noted some stressed plants again today from the 90F temp and high humidity so put up some shade again where possible. So sorry about the Springfire! That and the Cousin Itts are sad losses. But your last photo is perfection! So there's some consolation...

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    1. I see more damage every day so, as with cold damage, I think heat damage can take awhile to show itself. I'm really hoping 'Cousin Itt' will be fine in the long run. 'Springfire's' recovery doesn't look as likely.

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  5. I'm so sorry about Itt and 'Springfire'.

    My 'Camouflage' Fatsia died, while 'Spiderweb' about two feet away looks untouched. Mix of good and bad, just as you say. I swear Grevillea 'Superb' grew two feet. What the @^#$! There could be undamaged branches under the 'Springfire' damage--it could be okay. They need water regularly if not yet established.

    Pouring rain out in the desert. Wish we could get some.

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    1. 'Springfire' gets watered 2x a week but I probably should have given it more supplemental water in advance of the heatwave. I watered it Friday night but by then the damage may have been done - it just didn't show up immediately.

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  6. Oh gosh, that is too bad. When even native plants are having trouble, you know the conditions are extraordinary. It's fascinating to study which plants sailed through nearly unscathed and which ones suffered the worst. On a positive note, the climate is warm through the winter, so they'll have some time to recover (I know that's small consolation, but, well, you know how I feel about winter... Blech.)

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    1. Summer heat is our equivalent of your winter cold, Beth. Both do damage that the gardener can only do so much to prevent.

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  7. There's an ancient camellia on the north side of my house that has a lot of burned leaves. I had a beautiful vine, Solanum valerianum, that cooked to a crisp. My yard has a lot of shade and that probably saved some things, but I bet I will find more victims as the days go on. Sorry for your Cousin Itts. I have tried to grow that plant with no luck, and always admired yours. I hope they come back better than ever.

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    1. One of my Camellias is also showing tip-burn, although my own ancient specimens (plants that came with the house) look okay, even though they're only feet away from one another. I remain hopeful about my 'Cousin Itts'.

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  8. I think it's best to regard it as a learning experience.I have found that a surprising number manage to survive by drooping and / or dropping leaves. In that last photo the garden looks superb, with flowers and a colourful mix of foliage. Wonderful post, that of course I so relate to, just at a different time of the year.

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    1. I'm trying to be patient and give the plants the time to recover (or prove they can't). It's just not easy for me, Sue!

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  9. You’re not worried the Hong Kong orchid/Bauhinia x blakeana is a goner are you? Just a setback? And the Fatsia...I couldn’t see damage in the photo, will it be okay?

    This sucks, especially when you were having such a lovely late spring/early summmer....

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    1. It does suck. Both the Bauhinia and the Fatsia should be fine given time and cooler weather. The Fatsia's lower leaves turned black and brown and I've now removed them. I'd been thinking about moving that plant to one of the shadier areas of the garden to give it room to spread but this experience caused me to back off on that plan. Hoover Boo said her own 'Camouflage' died so it seems to be sensitive to our hot, dry summers.

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  10. So sorry for all that damage. It's difficult to lose treasured plants. It's good to know that you still have a lot of beauties that came through unscathed. I thought of you today as a box from Annie's arrived at the door containing four Arthropodium cirratum. They're all planted in a difficult spot (dry and fairly deep shade.) I'm so hoping that they'll be happy here at the low end of their winter hardiness and fill in there where little else likes to grow.

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    1. I hope the Arthropodium does well in your garden, Peter. I originally planted mine on my horrid back slope, where they got too little water and too much sun - they didn't look great there but, to their credit, they survived and even bloomed. I eventually moved them to more hospitable (shadier) areas of the garden. They bulk up fast given sufficient water to get started and they divide relatively easily. If your winter doesn't kill them, you could end up with them all over the place!

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  11. What a shame Kris, that you received all that damage in the garden. I don’t think we’ve had a temp quite as high as that, but I’ve certainly seen some of my plants get burnt, so I know how devastating it is after all the care you give them. It’s terrible to think that these events will probably become more frequent as climate change bites. I hope the temps don’t reach those heights again.

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    1. In 2016, when we had the other horrific heatwave, the rest of the summer was relatively mild as I recall. I hope that's true this time too.

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  12. Oh Kris nature is so cruel at times. It must have been a heartbreaking walk round your garden surveying the damage. As you mention in your post wind can be just as damaging as heat and a combination of the two is most bad news. Encouraging though to see that some of your treasures have come through unscathed. I suppose only time will tell the full extent of the damage. Hang on in there and here's hoping for cooler days ahead xxx

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    1. I'm still finding new damage every time I walk through my garden, Anna, but I'm trying to take it in stride. Southern California has its pluses - summer heatwaves just isn't one of them.

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  13. You have so much that still looks terrific, but I know all too well how depressing it is when the Death Star and drought fry the garden. I'm sorry about the damage, Kris, and hope most plants make a full recovery. Looking forward to fall here in Austin too!

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    1. Fall, and more pointedly cooler temperatures, are always a cause for celebration, Pam!

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  14. So, so sorry for all you are going through (or, more correctly, what your plants are going through!) I've never seen leaves actually burned like that. We used to have severe winter problems in the Hudson Valley but I think most plants eventually came back. And yes, we have months to go until cooler weather. I just checked one of my azaleas and the ground all around it but just bone dry. Poor poor thing. So Ive had the hose running/trickling right on it for two hours now. We shall see.

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    1. Plants do have their way of overcoming the things Mother Nature throws at them, Libby. I'm sure your azalea appreciates the deep drink.

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  15. I can't imagine temps of 110. I can imagine how you feel about the ruined plants. Here we have been having 90F days with no rain for some time. Plants are laying down. I guess we will see what this heat wave and drought like weather will do to the garden. Best of luck with yours. May the rain gods take mercy and water your garden for you sooner than usual to break the heat.

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    1. There are monsoonal rains in the deserts to the east now, Lisa, but unfortunately they're not expected to make it this far. Some of the inland valleys might benefit, though.

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  16. Oh, goodness, I think I would have cried. It is hard when Nature takes a turn for the worse, and there isn't a thing we can do about it. Your attitude is wise to look upon this as a learning experience. The possibility that this could happen regularly over time, shapes what you can and can't grow, thus creating a hardier garden in the long run. One can't resist facing the limitations of one's climate (boy, do I know that ;) ). I hope Nature is kinder to you for the rest of the summer. You deserve a break!

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    1. It's demoralizing to say the least, Eliza, but, other than moving north (which I think about periodically!), I know I need to adjust my plant palette to address the ever-changing climate issues. That doesn't mean I won't continue to test the limits on occasion though!

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  17. It's so hard to see damage that's beyond our control. I guess the silver lining is that so much of your garden pulled through, thanks to your awareness and actions of ecologically sound garden planning. I so hope that was the worst of it, though August is yet to come.

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    1. July and August are usually the worst months here so I know there may be more horrible heatwaves but I'm really hoping that we don't get another one like last week's. One of the newspaper columnists referred to it as a "nuclear" heatwave, which sounds about right. But I count myself lucky that I don't live in the inland valley I grew up in anymore - the heat reached 117F there!

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  18. Oh Kris, I’m so sorry to see this. Your heat makes me feel humbled complaining about our little excursion into the upper 20s. It never ceases to amaze me how resilient plants can be and most will be back. I guess now though, on both sides of the pond, we are moving into climate conditions at the extreme end of tolerance.

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    1. Yes, I find I can no longer can take for granted what I thought I knew about which plants can and can't make it here, Jessica. Some of the plants injured by this last heatwave might have fared better were they more firmly established in their spots - the challenge is how to get them to that point!

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