It is definitely time for a reprieve from the events of the past year and a half. That’s true for garden centers, customers, the plants they buy and grow, and the plants in our gardens.
We are living through a pandemic; we suffered devastating forest fires with smoke conditions that were hazardous to our health; we had a major ice storm with many mature trees crashing to the ground due to the weight of the ice that ripped through utility wires, causing power outages throughout the region; and most recently, we endured record-breaking high temperatures.
All of these events have emphasized, more than ever, the resilience of plants. There is no denying that many plants have suffered, and perhaps the extreme heat caused more damage than either the smoke or the ice. The impact of climate change and this extreme heat provide an opportunity to observe our gardens and make some decisions regarding altering the current plant palate. These are difficult decisions to make because we all have favorite plants that may sometimes even be a focal point in the garden.
A damage report
In observing my own garden and others, it is interesting to note which plants suffered the most damage, as well as those that had no apparent damage. With some mature trees and shrubs, it may be some months before we know the extent of possible damage.
I have heard from several arborists that we should not discount the stress that trees like Douglas fir, maple, oak, etc., can be under due to our very dry conditions. The symptoms might not be evident for some time in the future.
There were certainly many plants in my garden that came through the heatwave with scorched leaves. In spite of my watering them in the morning and spraying them sometimes twice a day, and then watering again in the evening, I could not prevent scorching. As I talk with other gardeners, we share many of the same plants that are showing damage.
Hydrangeas are one of the first plants that come to mind. Delving into the word itself, Hydrangea is from the Latin “hydro,” meaning water, and “angeion,” meaning barrel or pitcher. The plant got its name because it was thought the shape of the flower was like a pitcher. It does seem like a very appropriate name since hydrangeas do need lots of water.
In my garden, ferns suffered as well as fuchsias and rhododendrons.
What does all this mean to garden centers and their customers? When gardeners get together, talking about plants, successes and failures, it can be an easy conversation.
Most seasoned gardeners can talk about their plant failures and either try again or move on. This may not be the case with the average garden center customer. A failure could lead them to withdraw from gardening because they may decide it is too difficult and not worth the trouble.
This is when garden center personnel can step in and engage the customer in conversation about plants, the conditions they need, some of the pitfalls of gardening and how rewarding it can be.
Actionable steps for garden centers
There are many lessons that we can learn from the recent heat spell. First, we can gain valuable information concerning which plants did well in the heat. The three olive trees (Olea ‘Arbequina’) in our garden are in an extremely hot, full-sun location and they came through with no trace of leaf burn.
However, this was not the case with my neighbor’s street tree, Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese stewartia). Several days before the heatwave, I took some photos of the beautiful white flowers against a background of deep, dense green leaves. Several days later, this tree was badly scorched.
Another neighbor has a row of Ceanothus ‘Victoria’ planted in a location where they receive the hot afternoon sun. They came through the heat looking just as good as ever. Another plant that will tolerate conditions similar to Ceanothus, is Arctostaphylos (manzanita). These plants make a beautiful statement in the garden with their copper-colored bark and often twisty growth habit. They also have many different cultivars with differing growth habits that vary from ground covers to medium and large shrubs. Some can even be like small trees. Both of these plants deserve increase recognition because if given the right conditions, they will perform very well and are not prone to leaf scorch.
Some garden centers already have special sections for heat-tolerant plants, but in most cases these sections should be expanded. Signage and tips on plant care are a necessity in sections like this because much of the information will be new to many gardeners. Armed with this type of information, gardeners will be better prepared for potential problems that may occur in the future.
Staying at the forefront
This summer has been stressful for both plants and people and we do not want the memory to linger because it might discourage the trend of young families getting back to the earth. Collectively, we can work together to encourage the continuing pursuit of our favorite hobby.
It is important that garden centers and gardeners emphasize the enthusiasm of working with the land to improve our environment. It is vital that we all work to keep gardening at the forefront of this new generation of gardeners. We must be eager to convey that gardening is an enjoyable hobby, not a burden and that the joys are very satisfying.