Native or not, some plants like it hot

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Native or not, some plants like it hot

By BETSY JUKOFSKY
Special to Lowcountry Life
Published Sunday, August 5, 2012   |  699 Words  |  

Goodbye, July. I'm glad to see you go. You brought extreme heat to my yard, and the only moisture you gave was in the air.

It's the time of year when I'm grateful for the native plants that thrive in the Lowcountry summers. I'm filled with admiration, too, for the tropical plants that have responded to our warmer winters by remaining outdoors without damage.

We grow the tropical plants in containers just in case they have to be popped into the garage on a cold night in January. Last winter they stood their ground and with rich reward. Hibiscus, bougainvilla and Mandeville got a head start on springtime flowering and continue to shrug off summertime heat and humidity.

Tropical cacti and succulents indigenous to freeze-free zones are showing their tolerance for Lowcountry summers by flowering.

The exotic lookers in the garden, the Solanum quitoense ("little orange" in Spanish) with its nail-studded leaves and bright orange fruits, has produced a sprout that's already grown into an adult-sized plant.

The "Weeping Andersoni," a gift from Phyllis Messineo of Sun City Hilton Head, is thriving in the afternoon and has produced more than a dozen hibiscus-like flowers.

The dramatic, orange, hanging blooms on a shrub grown from a cutting of a plant native to one of the Caribbean islands was given to me by an unknown gardener many years ago.

The fragrant "coconut orchid" was bred by Lee Berrenson. It resides on a branch of a small tree where it lived all of last winter.

Those tropical plants that we plant in the Lowcountry in the spring that grow and flower in full sun and summer heat are: portulaca, nickname "Jump and Kiss"; Asclepias curassavica, known as "Milkweed" or "Bastard Ipecacuanha"; Madagascar periwinkle; and Passiflora or "Passion flower," our native "Maypop," with fabulous blooms and edible egg-size fruits that naturalist John Muir called "the most delicious fruit I have ever eaten."

Easy-to-grow drought flowering plants are canna, crocosmin, crinum lilies, baptisia "Carolina moonlight," lantana, salvia, gailardia and black-eyed Susan. A word from the wise: If given water, crocosmia will take over, popping up in pathways and green groundcovers.

WHAT HAPPENED

Experienced growers tell us that plants going into summer in our area were already stressed by the warm winter and spring. Gardeners don't help when they put a shade-loving plant where it gets summer sun. Shade-loving plants are used to growing under trees and will not thrive in direct sunlight. If you've not done so, mulch. A 2-inch layer of mulch gives the plant what it is used to in the wild, an organic blanket that insulates the plant from heat and cold. I am fortunate to have a leaf mulcher that chops large oak leaves into small bits that are then spread around plants, those in the ground and in containers.

When you water, water so that you penetrate deeply into the ground. Light or brief watering sessions will cause plants to grow roots close to the surface, further stressing them in hot weather.

BUGS WITH BENEFITS

Beneficial insects in your garden feed on common garden pests. Beneficials keep your garden and the environment free from harmful pesticides. You can attract these pest-eaters by planting a small garden of plants that they love. Herbs and native plants will bring bees and the "food guys" to your garden.

Bees pollinate our plants, including fruits and vegetables, and they are suffering from over-use of pesticides. Plant any or all of these: cilantro, coreopsis, oregano, thyme, mint, anise hyssop, coneflowers, butterfly weed, golden rod and tick seed. When autumn comes and plants begin to wither, be sure to leave some stalks and leaves in place to give your beneficials a place to bed down for winter.

Yesterday, I put down the watering can and stood still to watch butterflies, bees and dragonflies go from tomato plant to kumquat tree to Angel wing begonia. The only plant spraying I've done this summer is to fend off deer.