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“Survivor Plants” Remain Elegant Even In Hot, Dry Weather

Natives with long tap roots like the bright orange butterfly weed are completely unfazed by the heat, as are shrubs like crepe myrtle and caryopteris.

Drought-resistant Crepe Myrtle shrubs line a walkway in Baytown, Texas.

Jane Austen once wrote, “What dreadful hot weather we have. It keeps me in a constant state of inelegance.”

This past summer was especially hot and dry, and the harsh weather kept me out of my garden, so it too, was in a “constant state of inelegance.” It looked so bedraggled that a neighbor asked a friend, “Is Moya sick? Her garden looks awful.” I was certainly sick at heart. Many of my shrubs and most of the perennials, as well as some of the trees such as the kousa dogwoods, looked defeated. I threw some water on my pots, and a few tough, deer-resistant annuals like zinnias and blue salvia, but I am ashamed to say I didn’t have the energy to drag the hose very far from my front door.

However, there were a few plants that bravely carried on and bloomed well, despite the heat, drought and neglectful gardener. Natives with long tap roots like the bright orange butterfly weed were completely unfazed by the heat, as were the helianthus, plumbago, liriope, hibiscus ‘Southern Belle’, the perennial asters and the Russian sage.

The best survivor shrubs were the crepe myrtles and the caryopteris (the variety with chartreuse foliage), which were lovely. Most of the sedums were fine too, though some near the hot sidewalk didn’t fare as well as the others.

Of course, shrubs like hydrangeas really hated the drought as did the viburnums. Many of the leaves of my day lilies totally crisped up too, which I had never seen happen before in my garden. It takes a lot of sustained heat and drought to crisp established day lilies! However, there is a lesson here. Next spring I am going to plant more of these survivor plants in my garden.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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