Summer’s survivors not just on TV: Tough plants withstand hot, dry season

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 4, 2000

The summer of 2000 will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the hottest and driest in history. The record breaking heat an drought caused havoc in our lawns and gardens. Only the toughest plants stood a chance. If you are like me, and hate to spend time watering, many so called “tough” plants even bit the bullet.

As the summer dragged on, I began to notice that my garden was the horticultural equivalent to the hit television show “Survivor.” For those of us hooked on the show, we tuned in every week to see who was going to get voted off the island. In the garden, each week, I would notice that the weather would vote out a few of my plants. No immunity in my yard! After a while, I couldn’t wait to see which plant would be the last one standing. I soon found out which ones were wimps like Sonja and BB and which ones were tough like Rich and Rudy.

Before summer fades into memory, and we get busy with fall gardening, take time to make a note of what plants survived in your garden. The toughest ones in mine included, lantana, cockscomb, moss rose, ruellia, and of course my cacti and succulent collection. Most of the “old garden” favorites survived just fine. While many of the “new” highly marketed, patented, plants got voted out early.

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For those lawn lovers in the Miss-Lou, I felt your pain during the unprecedented heat. Unless, you had a darn good irrigation system, your turf likely took it on the chin this year. Even our warm-season turfgrasses that like the heat had a difficult time.

The lawns that made it through the summer in the best shape seem to be the ones that were cut the highest. Usually, raising the height of cut on your grass will result in a healthier stand of turf that will be more likely to make it through stressful times.

If your turf made it through the summer thick and full, feel lucky. If your turf has thinned or died this summer, now is time to try to get a little recovery before the onset of winter dormancy.

The secret to having a good lawn next year is to have your turf as healthy as possible going into the winter. As the days get shorter, and the temperatures get cooler, the grass responds by reducing vegetative growth and stockpiling food reserves for the winter.

Think of your turf like a grizzly bear. As winter approaches, the bear will eat as much as possible to prepare for a long period of hibernation in which he will not be able to eat. His survival depends upon his stored energy. The same with warm-season turf.

Proper fertilization is one of the most important factors to getting your turf healthy for the winter dormancy. Make sure that the turf has enough fertilizer to allow the plant to produce the needed food reserves, but not too much that will encourage new succulent growth and disease problems. I would recommend a half-rate application of fertilizer.

What kind of fertilizer is best? Any that you have. You may see a lot of fertilizer labeled “Winterizer.” It is probably just as good as any other. Although, the term winterizer may be misleading. “Winterizer” fertilizer doesn’t have any secret ingredient in it that makes it better than any other. Winterizing your turf is not like winterizing your car.

I know we are all ready to start sprucing up our flower beds with fall bedding plants. Mums, marigolds, petunias, and others are widely available now. Marigolds, and petunias in particular are great this time of the year and are a great way to quickly add lots of color. Both in my opinion are under used as fall bedding plants.

It may be a little early yet to set out pansies and violas even though they are available. I know, everyone can’t wait to set them out. Pansies are sensitive to heat and can have a difficult time if set out too early. In a recent bulletin, Louisiana State University horticulture specialist Allen Owings recommends that pansies not be planted until after Oct. 15 in our zone. He recommends that the ground temperature be 60 or below when planting and that generally happens around Oct. 15. If set out to early and exposed to too much heat, pansies may not perform as well as those set out a just a little later. Just hang on another couple of weeks!

4I usually don’t mention meetings and events, but one event that you should not miss is the 19th annual Plantfest! coming up on Oct. 7 and 8. Plantfest! is truly a special event. Plantfest! happens every fall at LSU’s Hiltop Arboretum on Highland road and has become one of the largest plant related events in the South. If you love plants and like to garden, you will love this event that attracts “plain dirt gardeners” from all around. The sale benefits the Arboretum. Find a friend with a big van and be prepared to come back with lot of great ideas and interesting plants. More info can be found by calling (225) 767-6916 or at website:

4On a personal note, I really appreciate all of the comments, calls, and e-mails concerning my new position with Stewart Orchids. I am really excited personally and for Natchez. In fact, as I type this, I am enjoying a great view of the Pacific ocean from the town of Carpinteria, Calif. I am here getting up-to-date on orchids at Stewart’s current production facility. Yes! I plan to continue writing this column. It is just too much fun! And, yes! Fred’s Greenhouses will continue to grow and be a part of gardening history in Natchez.

Gardening Miss-Lou Style is a weekly column written by Traci Maier of Fred’s Greenhouse. Please send your comments and questions to Gardening Miss-Lou Style, c/o The Natchez Democrat, 503 N. Canal St., Natchez, Miss., 39120 or by e-mail to