Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tell the Truth Tuesday (Late Edition): Summer Stress

Even during a relatively mild summer, as this one's been thus far, our Mediterranean climate puts a good deal of stress on garden plants.  We had a touch of rain in May, late in the season by our standards, but we've been dry since.  While the monsoonal rains in the desert areas to the east occasionally drift into our area, all we've had is Mother Nature's spit this year, providing enough dampness to dirty a car sitting in the driveway but not enough to register as rain.  In all likelihood, dry conditions will continue unabated until at least November.  Dryness, combined with temperatures in the upper 80s to low 90sF can suck the life out of plants that appreciate more hospitable environments, even with regular irrigation.

One area in particular screams "help!" every time I walk through my back garden.

This photo shows the area in question in mid-June (on the right side of flagstone path)

And this is the area as it appears now

Even though last year's rainfall was abysmal, the area didn't look half this bad in July 2018.  In fact, my mid-July 2018 Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day shots show that Achillea 'Moonshine' was still blooming well at that time.  In contrast, by mid-July this year everything in this area looked like it'd been run over by a bulldozer.  The area's collapse seemed relatively sudden, although admittedly my attention was focused less on the garden and more on remodel-related chaos at that time.  My first guess was that critters of some sort staged a mighty battle in this bed.  Our security cameras provided no clues to either support or refute that theory.  I also wondered if I relied more on hand irrigation last year than I did this year, or if gophers or other tunneling creatures damaged plants from under the ground.  I've no record tracking my hand-watering efforts, although I know I undertook emergency watering in early July 2018 when our temperature hit 110F.  As to gophers, I couldn't find any evidence of their presence on the surface.


This area, like the rest of the border is covered by an automated irrigation system.  I deep-watered it manually about 10 days ago, which gave it something of a boost, rewarding me with a few Amaryllis belladonna blooms.


In any case, I'm thinking this area needs an overhaul once cooler weather returns.*  At present, it's occupied by the following plants:

  • Achillea 'Moonshine'
  • Erigeron glaucus
  • Gazanias (self-sown)
  • Geranium 'Tiny Monster'
  • Narcissus 'White Lion' (currently dormant)
  • Scilla peruviana (currently dormant)


I'm considering introducing one or another shrub here that might be tough enough to handle summer conditions - and critters - in stride.

Another Echium webbii is one possibility but this one next to the fountain got bigger than its projected 3x3 foot profile, which I think would be a problem in the bed on the other side of the path 

Lupinus propinquus (syn. Lupinus arboreus) is another prospect.  This is one I had in my garden in 2016.  (The baby Echium webbii that replaced it can be seen nearby on its left, showing that I didn't have any understanding of how big the latter plant would eventually get.)  The Lupinus spread out more than up so it might be fine across the way next to the Achillea.  I loved it but it succumbed rather quickly to webworms in the fall of 2016 so I'd have to watch out for those.


In the short-term, I may plant up 2-3 pots and stick them in the afflicted area.  Or plant heat-tolerant annuals.  Or simply clean out the dead plant material, lay down compost, and wait out the summer.  I'm open to any and all suggestions for short- or long-term solutions to make this area less ugly.

Tell the Truth Tuesday is hosted on a periodic basis by Alison at Bonney Lassie to keep things real by sharing the less-than-perfect aspects of our gardens.


*Recent weather forecasts suggest that the North Pacific "Blob" has returned, which could lead to higher than average temperatures this fall.  Other reports suggest the possibility of a delayed rainy season.


All material © 2012-2019 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

24 comments:

  1. Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt' has done so well in other areas of your garden, are the conditions in this spot possibly to its liking? Or....I think if I lived there I might be jumping to plant another big-flowered Grevillea.

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    1. I do love both my Acacias and my Grevilleas but there are already a lot of them nearby. I added both Grevillea 'Superb' and 'Peaches & Cream' to the same border just 4-5 feet to the right (south). Both came in 1-gallon containers so they're taking their own sweet time getting established but 'Superb' is on its way.

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    1. If they didn't cost an arm and a leg now, I'd buy 2 or 3 more Yucca 'Bright Star' to repeat the 3 I already have nearby, l2g.

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  3. I know how that "wait, what happened here?" reaction can creep up on you. Yesterday I finally managed to get a little water on the front garden after actually looking hard at areas I'd only glanced at previously. Do you have a variegated Echium? Echium candicans 'Star of Madeira', I'm thinking you do. Maybe you need a patch of Echium wildpretii?

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    1. I have a 'Star of Madeira' in my front garden. It gets nigger than I think that bed can handle but I have been tempted to try Echium wildpretii...

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  4. Your initial suspicions about animal activity made intuitive sense to me, given the good winter rains. We see a lot more tunneling by moles, voles, and groundhogs in the very stiff clay here after a year of good rainfall. I'd be drawn to your "tidy it up and wait it out" approach, but then I'm a pretty shiftless gardener.

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    1. If there are moles, voles or groundhogs here, I've never heard of them but perhaps I need to do some digging (pun intended). My next door neighbor has reported gopher problems at periodic intervals but shouldn't I see holes here and there? But maybe the sneaky things are tunneling away from all the construction work in the house, through the hedge and popping up in the mass of ivy that covers the back slope? The holes wouldn't be evident there.

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  5. Being old enough to remember the movie 'The Blob' although, I insist, only the re-runs, I trust that the North Pacific one isn't nearly as fearsome.

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    1. Oh, our 'Blob' is fearsome enough, Jessica. It was previously held accountable for years of poor rainfall in Southern California prior to this past year's El Nino. It's also associated with heightened temperatures in Alaska and accelerated ice melt up that way.

      Out of curiosity, as I couldn't remember how 'The Blob' was eliminated by Steve McQueen and friends, I looked up a summary of the movie's plot. It couldn't be killed but was controlled by exposure to extreme cold by being dropped in the Arctic Ocean. But Arctic waters are now warming, possibly freeing the Blob to wreak havoc again!

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  6. While I'd love to see the sun every day, I cannot imagine no rain for 6 months. That'd be a disaster in our climate!

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    1. Well, irrigation helps and we can do that as long as there's a decent snow-pack like that we got this year. If I couldn't irrigate, my plant palette would be much narrower!

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  7. That lack of rain must be so difficult. We had a drought in 2012, with no rain from early June through mid-August, and it was triple-digit hot. I know it doesn't compare with your yearly extended dryness, but it gave us a taste of what it would be like. Heat-tolerant annuals make a lot of sense, don't they? I hope you'll get a few touches of rain in the next few months.

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    1. Unfortunately, many plants that can take our summer heat want a lot of water. Even Zinnias want more water than my beds get, which is why I confine them to my cutting garden, which I water more lavishly. That's why I grow so many succulents!

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  8. You live in a different world than I. Voles could do this damage but I would think that the accumulative effect of high heat and not enough water would be the ultimate culprit. Your constant dryness makes me almost ashamed of whining about our summer drought time. Our grass is going dormant and looking awful after such a lush spring beginning of the year. The plants in the beds are a little better off. I do water the newer planted plants. I must say I am looking forward to autumn rains.

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    1. I campaigned for years to move somewhere north of here that got more rain. My husband and I spent several vacations checking out options. But life and family demands intervened and so we stayed, actually moving 15 miles south to a location that's somewhat hotter (10 degrees on average in the summer) and just as dry. Oh well!

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  9. At the risk of obvious, have you checked the emitter on the irrigation system? Also, since things perked back up after water, maybe mulch and wait. The wonderful winter rains we got caused some of my normally well-behaved plants to overgrow and hence, overly die back. Unless of course you're looking for a new garden project to keep you out of the construction zone...

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    1. The irrigation system is working but that particular area is drier than others, although it's always been so. The system was off-line for about a week due to a construction-related electrical wiring issue; however, I manually turned on the valves to cover the affected areas which included this one. I usually run the automated system in the wee hours of the morning but the manual exercise was performed in the late afternoon so I suppose the timing could have made a difference. Your second theory that exuberant spring growth may have resulted in a more dramatic summer collapse is entirely plausible.

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  10. p.s. Definitely not gophers. You would know if you had gophers.

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    1. I've certainly never seen one - and I haven't seen any of the tell-tale holes my neighbor's lawn had either.

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  11. Hmm, so strange that it would have looked better in super hot 2018 than after the comparatively benevolent summer we're currently enjoying. That doesn't make sense to me. I'm thinking there must be some kind of critter involved, somehow. My eyes have just been opened to a plant that might happy be included in whatever vignette you create; it's called Dorychnium hirsutum or Hairy Canary Clover. Low mounding spreading plant with fuzzy silver leaves and pink pea-like flowers. Super cute, super tough, and likes to seed around, so even if one dies, you'll have babies next year.

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    1. I've been growing Dorycnium hirsutum for years now, Anna. Most of it's in the drier area on the northeast side of the house but, as it is prolific, it's crept into the front and back gardens too. You're right, it'd work well in my current problem area - I'm just afraid it'd take over as it has in other areas. I've certainly got LOTS of seed right now.

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  12. I have a feeling that I'll have plenty of "it grew a lot larger than I thought it would" moments in the new border that I created as I did tend to go with the lower range on spacing for most of the new plants. And I love the potted plant idea! I have a few areas of the garden that I'm restoring, most of which are now laid with black plastic covered in mulch (and need to stay this way for at least a year in order to get rid of invasives) and strategic placement of pots has been a great interim measure.

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    1. I've used pots as bed fillers before and been happy with the approach. On this occasion, I still haven't done anything with the area, mostly because of the chaos surrounding our home remodel activities.

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