If Canadians didn’t have the weather to talk about, we would be speechless. Perhaps, more accurately, we would simply listen more.
Talk of summer weather inevitably moves the conversation to heat and drought. As we climb the curve of climate change, we are slowly learning to plant more heat- and drought-tolerant plants.
“The right plant in the right place” is the mantra that gardeners all learn in the early days of their experience.
This is a good time of year to plant, if you are available to water your new plants as they dry out, which is more frequently than, say, early in spring or late in fall. Even drought-tolerant, winter-hardy relatives of the cactus family, like sedum and echeveria, need some water to get them started.
Here is a list of our favourite “fryable” (a word we made up) plants: they are drought-tolerant and love the heat of summer. Each is a winner in its own right: they flower reliably year after year and are about as low maintenance as perennials get. These are garden performers that can “take it.”
Purple Cone Flower(Echinacea purpurea). A native Canadian prairie plant that just keeps giving. Especially this time of year when over 100 of them are in full bloom in Mark’s 10-acre garden. They are attracting butterflies and native bees in droves and will continue to do so until they finish blooming around mid-August. When they set seed, they attract flocks of songbirds like chirping finch and nut hatches. It is quite a chorus: worth waiting for each season. Purple Cone Flower is a “fryable”. It can really take the heat, as any summer flowering prairie native can.
Russian Sage(Perovskia) sounds Russian doesn’t it? Any member of the sage family will take long summers of hot weather in its stride. Like the sage advice your Mother gave you, this plant is timeless. Russian sage is a fine ornamental plant that grows about a meter high and blooms sky blue this time of year.
Ornamental Grasses.There are many but you can choose your favourite for a hot, sunny place. They have one thing in common: they thrive in the heat and love the sun. When the rest of your garden is wilting, ornamental grasses stand tall, like the soldiers in Bear Skin hats standing on guard at Buckingham palace. Only grasses bend in the wind. It is part of their charm. Choose from panicum, calamagrostis, miscanthus or andropogon. Look over the selection at your favourite garden retailer and look for “clumping” habit. This is important as the ones that travel can take over your yard. Avoid Ribbon Grass at all costs.
Trees. Many trees are deeply rooted and drought tolerant. Trees tolerant of heat and drought include service berry (Amelanchier), lindens (Tilia), and most evergreens (not because they are deep rooted, but they transpire less water in the heat). Avoid shallow rooted deciduous trees like birch and Norway Maples.
Final word. When you DO water any plant, do so deeply and allow the water to soak into the feeding roots of the plant. Then let the soil dry to at least 6 centimetres deep before you water again. This will drive roots deep, seeking water. This way, you can train your garden plants to be as drought tolerant as possible.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.