‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

August 24, 2016 Caladiums 007~

That title could say, ‘Plan ahead for your garden’s worst day’ and it would be even better advice.  I’ve been thinking about this these last few mornings as I stand outside for hours watering and watching our garden respond to weeks of dry heat.

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August 24, 2016 Caladiums 016

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We gardeners are curators of a collection of living ever-changing organisms.  In the best conditions, when we get just enough rain and temperatures are mild, we have it easy.  But those days won’t last forever.  And so we must plan ahead for all of the challenges the gardening year brings; including August’s heat and drought.

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I've been sprinkling seeds of these chives around the garden for the past few years. They are tough and pretty and their aroma discourages grazing animals.

I’ve been sprinkling seeds of these chives around the garden for the past few years. They are tough and pretty and their aroma discourages grazing animals.

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As change is the constant in our gardens, we plan ahead for the beauties and challenges of each season.  We make sure our garden has ‘good bones’ to offer structure and interest during winter.  We plan for evergreens, architectural structure, perhaps a few interesting perennials with seed heads left standing and a few herbaceous plants which keep going through the worst weeks of winter.

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Violas bloom for us through most of the winter. They make a nice display from October through May.

Violas bloom for us through most of the winter. They make a nice display from October through May and pair well with potted shrubs and spring bulbs.

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We plant bulbs and flowering woodies to greet the warmth of spring; perennials to carry us through summer; and those special late perennials and trees with colorful foliage to give us beauty lasting through the first wintry frosts.

Good gardeners are always thinking a few  months ahead to take advantage of the season coming.

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March 15, 2015 flowers 019

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But we also think ahead to survive the special hazards of the season coming, too.    And right now, that means having a plan in place to keep the garden hydrated until the rains come again.

It can be so discouraging to watch valued plants wither and droop from too much heat and too little water.  Mulches and drip irrigation certainly help here.  But we don’t all have extensive drip systems in place.  Some of us are carrying hoses and watering cans to the most vulnerable parts of our landscape each day.

In a few short months our weather will shift.  Winter protection for overwintering perennials will be our big concern.  We’ll begin preparing for spring with thoughtful pruning and dividing, and then watch for those late freezes which can catch a gardener unawares.

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Black Eyed Susans may droop in the heat, but they are survivors. Native plants like these are able to manage without a lot of special care. This patch self-seeds and spreads each season.

Black Eyed Susans may droop in the heat, but they are survivors. Native plants like these are able to manage without a lot of special care. This patch self-seeds and spreads each season.

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Changing the plant palette in the garden to include tough, hardy, drought tolerant plants helps, too.  Finding plants with deep roots, thick fleshly leaves and a hardy constitution becomes more important with each passing year.  A too-delicate plant allowed to dry out or freeze for even a day may be a total loss.

I’ve been moving pots around quite a bit over these last few weeks, trying to offer more shelter and shade to plants which need it; moving those that succumbed while I was traveling out of sight….

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Lavender "Goodwin's Creek' and Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' have proven a winning combination in a pot together this summer. They sit in full sun and never show stress from the heat.

Lavender “Goodwin Creek’ and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ have proven a winning combination in a pot together this summer. They sit in full sun and never show stress from the heat.

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A dedicated gardening friend sometimes reminds me, “There is no right place for an ugly plant.”  I tend to be sentimental and try to coax near-gonners back to health.  He is much more practical about it.  Get rid of that ugly plant and choose something better suited to the actual conditions of the spot!

And that brings us full-circle in this conversation.  Planning ahead also means deciding not to buy those plants we know won’t make it through the season.  It doesn’t matter how much we love the plant.  If the real growing conditions of our garden won’t support a plant long term, why waste the money?

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This is one tough Begonia, taking a lot of sun and keeping its color well.

This is one tough Begonia, taking a lot of sun and keeping its color well.  It overwintered in our garage and new plants grew quickly from cuttings.

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As we note which plants grow really well for us, we have to also note those which don’t.  I already know that the Dahlias I planted with such hope look like crap.  Several are already dead or dormant….  Most of the potted Petunias have now fried in the heat.  I cut them back hard, watered, and hope for grace. 

It doesn’t matter whether the problem is the soil, the weather, Japanese beetles, lack of time or lack of skill; let’s be honest with ourselves from the beginning.  Let’s choose more of what works for us and just stop trying to force those plants which won’t.

Let’s plan ahead for success rather than setting ourselves up for disappointment.

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Many plants in our garden, like these Crepe Myrtles, are self-seeded 'volunteers.' These shrubs are never watered yet look fresh and healthy. There is a self-seeded Beautyberry in the lower right corner which soon will have bright purple berries loved by the birds.

Many plants in our garden, like these Crepe Myrtles, are self-seeded ‘volunteers.’ These shrubs are never watered yet look fresh and healthy. There is a self-seeded native Beautyberry on the right, which soon will have bright purple berries loved by the birds.  Native and naturalized plants are dependable through all sorts of weather extremes.

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:

Planning ahead also means looking for ways to do things better each season.  We should try a few new plants each year.  Let’s remain open to new possibilities both for our plant choices and for cultural practices.  Just because something doesn’t work the first time we try doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve on what we’re doing, and try again.

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These are the first leaves to open on our new Caladium 'Sweet Carolina' from Classic Caladiums. This is a new 2015 introduction that I am happy to grow out in a gardening trial for this plant in coastal Virginia. So far, I like it! It has gone from dry tuber to leaf in only about 3 weeks.

These are the first leaves to open on our new Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’ from Classic Caladiums. This is a new 2015 introduction, which I am happy to grow out in a gardening trial for new Caladium here in coastal Virginia. So far, I like it! It has gone from dry tuber to leaf in only about 3 weeks.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

Green Thumb Tip #8:  Observe!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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Lantana has proven a winner in our garden. I never shows stress from heat or drought because its roots grow deep. It feeds birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. It pumps out flowers non-stop from April until it is hit by frost. It is one of the most dependable and attractive plants we grow.

Lantana has proven a winner in our garden.  It never shows stress from heat or drought because its roots grow deep. It feeds birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. It pumps out flowers non-stop from April until it is hit by frost.  It rarely has any damage from insects and never is touched by deer or rabbits.  It is one of the most dependable and attractive plants we grow.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

9 responses to “‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

  1. All good advice, WG. I’ve learned a lot in my own garden from what has survived and what has not, as well as how much energy I have to expend to keep something alive and well. I had high hopes for dahlias, too, but the heat was too much for them. Snapdragons died while I was away although I think they might have done fine if the weeds hadn’t overtaken them. The zinnias, lavender, sage, and rosemary are all well suited for the area where the scrounger’s garden is located. I love the idea of sprinkling chive seeds around. Mine have just gone to seed so I’m going to give that a try. I have hot chili peppers that self-sow each year and that seems to keep some of the critters away, too.

    • Robin, our gardens might as well be next door! Our experiences are so similar! And I echo your observation about how much energy it takes to keep a particular plant alive and attractive- This is the first year in several when our ornamental peppers didn’t self-sow and I’m missing them! Can’t seem to find them anywhere to buy, either. Our chili peppers haven’t done as well as usual this year but they do serve the purpose to help keep critters away… which was the original purpose for the chives. But the butterflies love them! And so do I now that I see them bravely blooming here and there in this long dry stretch. Hope you are well- ❤ ❤ ❤ WG

  2. i love getting to know you more thru the garden posts – and truly what a great series and resource this is forest garden!

    my reply could be all over the place – so I will shre two things – k?
    first – I also like the lantana and it does well here in rva too – the first time I brought lantana home was in 2008 -bought (splurged) these huge mixed hanging pots from ukrops – and they had the mixed layers of flowers with rainbow lantana – truly special – and something about still being new to gardening made it better

    anyhow – as I have mentioned before – my garden days are few and the last couple of years – and this post is exactly a connection to “why” the front garden beds are doing so well without my hours there.
    we set them up for ease – I planted a ground cover on the side – and it actually took off on its own and that was a treat – the other areas have mulch and then…. plants that belong – and whew – Most are also well established and so that helped too – they are strong and stable –
    anyhow – your chives look good and I have some some that keep coming back – good idea to sprinkle
    ok – no need for a long reply – I just had a couple minutes and really enjoyed this post!
    have s great weekend 🌱🌱🌱🌱🌱

    • Thank you Yvette for adding your voice in praise of Lantana ☺I’m glad to hear that your garden beds are surviving August . There is a lavender trailing Lantana that does well in baskets . .have you seen it ? It is the only variety which has trouble in the drought . Pretty , but more delicate than others cultivars . Thank you for letting me know that you enjoyed this post . I’m just looking for excuses to use more butterfly photos 😊 have a great weekend !

      • well I actually have a photo of those 2008 hanging baskets with a visiting butterfly – I will come back and share it sometime -🌸🌸🌸

        • I miss Ukropts! They were amazing and no one has taken their place…. certainly not Martins!!!

          • yes and that is why they just shut down (or are shutting down) ten martins – and I heard Publix is coming – also maybe some more wegmans – and wegmans is sure closer to comparable than martins – really – what were they thinking !
            And side note – Christmas Eve 2011 (or maybe 2010) we sat next to the ukrops family at a church service at 1st baptist in the fan….
            such a loss to not have their store –
            but I think even before the crash of ’08 they were having probs – hmmm

  3. Good advice, all…as always. I like the idea of scattering the chive seeds about.

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