Surviving the Summer, Thriving in Fall

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Helping Your Yard Beat the Heat

We usually have droughty times during the summer, but summer 2012 is shaping up to be a real scorcher.  The good news is that if your grass looked okay in spring and early summer, then it’s probably not dead now.  Our grasses are adapted to go dormant in the summer and perk up again in the fall.  This is an opportunity to do some planning for lawn renovation.  
First, though, if you have an expanse of grass, how much more appealing would your landscape look with more shrubs, trees, and flowers and less of that stuff you have to fertilize and mow?  Fall is the best time for planting ornamentals, and you can save effort and money in the long run by planting groups of shrubs and trees.  

Then think about aerating, fertilizing, and overseeding the lawn that’s left.  Late August through October is the time for these tasks.  Nights are cooler, and the grass has time to grow, put down roots, and become well-established before the stresses of next summer.

Late-blooming shrubs include Abelia and Caryopteris.  Then there are shrubs that bloomed earlier, but now provide a bonus of beautiful berries.  Beautyberry (Callicarpa) is well named.  Try to find the native species (C.  americana).  It has larger, more showy lavender-purple berries than the non-natives commonly found in garden centers.   Strawberry bush (Euonymus americana) is a wonderful native for somewhere in the background if you can find it.  Its other name, Hearts a’burstin’, gives a clue – brilliant red seed pods that open to show bright purple seeds.  It’s straggly, so it needs to be where you can ignore it the rest of the year.

I hope you’ll avoid Nandina if you live anywhere near a natural field or woods.   It’s not officially invasive here, probably because birds don’t seem to eat the berries, but those beautiful berries sprout new seedlings very liberally, and if they’re next to a natural area they’ll be happy to grow there.  Besides,  everyone has Nandina.

Keep your new plants well-watered until the rains come.  Add a few perennials that are flowering now.  Look for something other than those overused chrysanthemums, and you’ll be on your way to a landscape that next August and September will cheer your heart.