Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lying down On The Job

Once upon a time, we had afternoon pop up thunderstorms and our summers were a little dry. But not in the last several years. I kept hoping that the hotter temperatures and lack of rain were aberrant; that soon we would return to our normally dry summers with occasional afternoon showers. This summer's weather has convinced me that we can't count on a return to normal...this may be the new normal. If that's the case, I need to change a few of my gardening practices.

Even though, the present sunny border 'design', works; a few plants might be retiring to someone else's garden and native moisture lovers, like monarda and stokesia, will be grouped together. It will be easier to hand water them and much better for plants like, Schizachyrium scoparium x The Blues, commonly known as Little Bluestem. Little Bluestem will be happier with other grasses and perennials that tolerate dry conditions.

The Blues live in a raised and tightly planted border that's quick to dry out. I set out a soaker hose last month when our temperatures where in the 90s with no rain for weeks at a time. The rudbeckia, monarda and daylilies are thrilled to have the extra moisture, but, it's drowning The Blues. They don't need or tolerate wet feet and it's starting to show! It's seriously listing from too much moisture! Soon it will be lying down on the job!

Other than liking dry roots, it's truly a beautiful and easy care native grass! I like what White Flower Farms has to say~~ "We selected this native Little Bluestem variety for its beautiful blue foliage that develops splendid burgundy tones in fall. Spikelets of purplish bronze flowers rise on the branched stems in late summer, and the backlighting show continues into winter when pearly white seedpods glint against sunrise and sunset. Easy going and tolerant of heat and humidity, 'The Blues' is scaled nicely for a mixed border or a natural meadow planting brightened with wildflowers and butterflies."

Who could resist a grass like that! Not me...so, making sure it survives my watering mistake, is high on the "take care of this, right now" list.

This is a good segue for sharing my biggest lesson of the season!

The Echinacea tennesseensis (Tennessee Coneflower) is not happy! Sarah, the garden coach, thought it would be perfect in the new bed by the front stoop! This bed was to be the home of cedar glade endemics. All winter long, it was sunny and wet; similar to the conditions at a cedar glade. Once the trees leafed out the bed was no longer in full sun. This is what it looks like ~~Downward Facing Dog coneflowers.

They're just not supposed to lie down! Echinacea purpurea can flourish in shadier conditions. Tennessee Coneflower cannot! It loves the sun and follows it as it moves across the sky, a beautiful Sun Salutation all day long! They're not supposed to lie down!

Sarah is convinced that the problem is too rich a soil! I think it's the shade! The stems don't look weak, they look as if they're reaching for the hidden sun...poor babies! It's possible that we both may be right!

I'm not taking the tree down! So this fall, half the coneflower will be relocated to the sunny front bed. I am sure they will thrive in the full sun among the Echinacea purpurea and the Rudbeckia hirta.

The Echinaceas will co-mingle and their offspring will be beautiful! The original plants will survive, but the offspring will multiply. Next summer we'll have more lavender and gold postings....and the coneflowers won't be looking for the sun.

As for the remaining coneflowers....I'll ugly up the soil in the cedar glade bed and make it lean and mean with a mulch of decomposed limestone to mimic the cedar glade conditions. That should help! If they are still lying down on the job next spring, we'll move them to the front bed, too.

Everyday in the garden is an opportunity to learn! What have you learned this summer?


Wherever humans garden magnificently, there are magnificent heartbreaks.
Henry Mitchell


  1. It would take me a whole post to write down all I've learned about gardening this summer, Gail!

    I love the bluestem grass; I haven't seen this before. I used to get a catalog from Whiteflower Farm--I always loved their descriptions of the plants as well as the photography. I'm jealous of that Monarda--I hope mine gets to that size eventually!

    Gardening seems to be an ongoing learning experience. That makes it the perfect hobby, doesn't it--exercise, stress relief, and mental stimulation all rolled into one activity. We gardeners should live to a ripe old age!

  2. My main lesson from this season is that should never ever move plants in the spring - those I moved this year are half of their not moved bros and sis :)

  3. I planted five new phlox in the long border and they have languished due to the high shade there. That is just one of many lessons learned but I usually need to make a mistake several times before I get the message. Must be age!

  4. Gail, I love your sunny border with the blue grass, but I understand why it needs to be moved. The Tennessee Coneflower does look a little sad. :( Will it inter breed with the regular coneflower if you put them together? The drought areas seem to be getting larger and I am hoping we don't start suffering here. I have learned lots and lots this year-now lets see if I remember next year and put the lessons into practice!

  5. rose,

    It is a perfect hobby! Have you noticed that non-gardeners think it is WORK...we know it is, but not like they mean it...they don't get that it is fun and relaxing!

    The monarda is pretty isn't it...I hope it survives our winters in clay soil that is pretty wet..this is it's first year.

    A very long time ago...White FLower Farm was the go to mail order nursery. We have so many choices now, but their descriptions are still beautiful. I got the Bluestem at a sale at our botanical garden. It's another native grass that the Germans fell in love with and hybridized!


  6. Hi Ewa,

    That's a hard lesson! Spring is when most of us have the energy to move plants about! Nurseries also tempt us with fabulous plants that we buy and end up nursing all summer..We do this every year, even when we know that it is better to transplant in the fall!


  7. layanee,

    Good morning!

    It is so easy to underestimate the shade trees can produce, especially on a beautiful spring day with the sun high in the sky! Will you move them to a sunnier spot? Most of mine are in semi-shade...they flower but nothing like the photos many garden bloggers have posted!

    Aging! It brings another dimension to the gardening experience!


  8. Hi Gail, I love your little bluestem. I have a native one that is the same genus but is not blue, I left it a couple of years, but it is a thug and doesn't add the interest in the fall I had hoped for. Yours looks like a better candidate. I have to say the all of my echinaceas are sad and listing, sun or shade, poor soil or better, although all of my soil is unimproved so none is what one could call rich, except maybe the veggie patch. I think it is the drought. Period. My sunny coneflowers don't look any better than the shady ones, although I don't have your E. TN. It all looks awful. Come on Fay!

  9. So well said. But I haven't given up that those afternoon pop ups will come back. Ever the optimist (I don't want to move all my plants!) I am hoping NEXT summer returns the rains because the greatest thing I have learned in the garden is to group those plants that like a lot of water CLOSE to the house (less hose draggin).

  10. Becky,

    The Tennessee Coneflower will breed with the Purple and the offspring will be lovely...having characteristics of both... intense coloring or less recurve in the petals. Bees and other pollinators are good matchmakers!

    We have a family joke about lessons not learned... one of us does the same silly thing again and the other can say...that we are reinventing the wheel!

    Have a lovely day in your garden!


  11. Tina,

    I wish I could move them closer to the house...Those beds are under trees and the trees are so very good at getting the water they need!

    There was a time when we didn't need to worry so much about water...just in August when it got really dry, the rains seemed to start again in September! It might be that I remembering it better then it was!


  12. Frances,

    It is a sad thing this drought...I upset myself when I looked at the drought map! It is so widespread in the southeast, Texas and parts of the west! Hopefully Faye won't damage the Key and the Florida coast and will bring us rain!


  13. Poor coneflowers! I wouldn't be surprised if it was the shade. Our coneflowers haven't done a whole lot since the plants around them grew so fast. One of them is kind of puny, the other just hasn't flowered much since early summer.

  14. Gail, I'm always planting things that I think will get enough sun and they usually don't. I used to have tons of sun, now I have mostly shade. I'm still learning to adjust to that.

  15. I did not know there was a drought map?? I'm sure our state is on it too (Colorado). When I moved here (1996) most houses did not have air conditioning because natives claimed they never needed it. Afternoon pop up showers (just as you describe) would occur about the time it was borderline "too hot" and cool everything off. I do not like the new climate either. It's much too extreme to me, swinging first one way then another. Every year is a learning lesson in the garden, isn't it?

  16. Our neighbor recently took down about 8 small (diseased) trees in his yard that once shaded the flower garden from the western sun. I now must rethink the hosta and other shade plants in that area.

    We had lived here for 6 years when I asked a local person about normal weather around here. He laughed and said, "There ‘Aint’ no normal weather around here any more!" I had to laugh at that comment. Our first three years were drought, and then came the rain that would not stop for a year. Then what I think to be one normal year and now back to that 3 year drought! Tropical storm Fay is on the way to shake things up a bit....

  17. Dave, Tough times for gardens! I am not sure what is going on with coneflower...maybe it declines with age...It is most likely a combinatin of drought and shade. Sigh.

    Phillip, Unless we garden on a prairie and cut down pioneer trees, most of us will eventually have to deal with the tree canopy! Shade plants are pretty but they aren't roses!

    Kathleen, In case you want to check it out here is the site http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=drought+map&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8 or google Drought monitor! It is depressing when viewed as a whole country.

    Skeeter, Weather prediction has gotten more difficult! We aren't supposed top get much effect from Faye...I hope you get some nice rain that stays around for a few days and not the horrible deluge that usually happens...I remember when we used to get 3 or 4 days of rain in the middle of summer.

    Good luck with the plantings...some nice shrubs might give the hosta a screen!


  18. I hear we'll have rain later in the week. Won't that be wonderful? I miss the summers with occasional rain in the afternoon.We don't get those anymore. I miss the random rainfalls that Nashville used to get years ago.

  19. May the offspring of the two coneflowers be not only beautiful but flexible as to soil, sun and water, Gail!

    Trying to learn lessons from one summer wouldn't get me very far in Austin - looking at one space on a graph won't help...you need the whole arc. Certain plants last year showed signs they were in too much shade but I didn't get around to moving them... some of those plants have sun scald this year. I'll let them sit another year before making up my mind!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  20. Gail, I just love your photos.

    The bluestem is very striking. A beautiful contrast to the green foliage and stems.

    Drought is the word that strikes terror into my heart. Seems like there are no more patterns to our weather--just random events, many of which are catastrophic.

  21. dp,
    Hi, Your video was such fun! Glad you're feeling better! Let's cross our finger, knock on wood or what ever to get the rain here as soon as possible!


  22. Gail,
    Oh so much learning and experimenting for gardeners. The blue stem is stunning. I've never seen it. I tried Bee Balm in a couple of places this year after seeing it all over blogdom but with no blooms I've marked it off as a non-humid loving plant. I really enjoy seeing yours.

    There are a couple of things I'll be moving as well for better results next year. Not only does the weather change but the shade and sun and so we must adjust along with it. Sounds like you've got the coneflower figured out...

    Wow! I want some of that rudbeckia!!!!

  23. Do you remember that I bought a Sun Calc early this past Spring? I haven't even used it yet!!! Crazy! I will try very hard to remember to set it out tomorrow. Now that some conditions have changed, I need to see what's happening "out there!"

    My purple coneflower gets a lot more shade than it would like, but somehow it's doing okay. Not as beautiful as yours, of course... but, really okay. ;-)

    Nice post. We all have our learning experiences, don't we??? :-)

  24. Hi Gail,
    I think, all conditions considered, things are looking great! Sounds like you do need to move the Echinaceas though ... I don't think they can ever get enough sun to fail. Ours are getting to goldfinch territory now.... so come on, Goldfinches... we can get video of you this year!

  25. I too suspect that it's a shade issue that's making them lean like that. They look an awful lot like my leaning Liatris. Lessons from this summer's garden? Pay attention to the weather & be aware when the weather pattern has changed & the garden needs to be watered again. We started off with a surplus of moisture this spring, but that's gone now & we haven't had a good soaking raining in a month.


Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.