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Native Plants Will Be Okay After Heat and Drought

  • 23 August 2023
  • Author: Rick Webb
  • Number of views: 3865
Native Plants Will Be Okay After Heat and Drought

As of August 20, 2023, the heat and drought conditions that a lot of us shared are here and now and are extraordinary.

Of course, any environmental stresses will point out the weaknesses and strengths in our systems. One that we watch is how our natural and built green infrastructures handle these pressures.

Where adequate irrigation is in place, compensation can be attempted. Things will get along, tolerate the temperatures and be ready when conditions normalize. Except many of us and many gardening customers want to live in landscapes that require as little maintenance as possible. Because of these desires, many have turned to native plants and natural garden design.

Plants that are native to an area have genetic memory of these kinds of climate irregularities. They have seen this before and will again. Defenses are inbred. We are seeing the native understory shrubs American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) with full-on wilt in the afternoons that perk up a bit overnight. Others like Starbush (Illicium floridanum) wilt and stay that way for days. Any additional irrigation or that heavenly sprinkle that just about rained, and these species will wake up. 

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)Illicium floridanum (Starbush)

We encourage Fall Planting; a great plan for early establishment of gardens to tolerate the growing season needs of the following summer. It is easy to see the struggle of “Spring” landscapes, native or exotic, in this summer’s records. Start planting in November, mulch heavily and you are off to better adaptation in the next August. Spring should be for planting summer annuals only.

Many of the deciduous trees and shrubs, such as Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), Tulip-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) or Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) go into early leaf drop as a defense and, while they look terrible, will be fine after rain.  

Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood Viburnum)Little Bluestem












Other trees that are weedy, short-lived, successional species, i.e. Water Oak (Quercus nigra) or Red Maple (Acer rubrum), have served their cycle. Understand that and don’t mourn them.

Wildflower and grass native prairies will just tough it out. The summer and fall blooming occupants will still have their flowers visited by the pollinators. Next season will be okay!

Many of the wetland obligates will, just like the deciduous trees, look tired, go to bed early and dream of winter and spring rains. All natural and all good.

As important as employing native plants in our constructed environments, try to design plantings that are

  • loose, irregular and natural in form
  • limited in straight lines or pure curves
  • planted in odd-numbers
  • not matched specimens on balanced grids
  • seedlings, not cultivars, whenever possible
  • native species that are matched for the soils and exposure of the planting site
  • mulch, mulch, mulch 

Doing this will help your place handle the stresses as well.

And remember, all in all, 2023 will just be a “tight growth ring” in tree chronology. This, too, shall pass.

Categories: Blog Posts