This is not a light hearted post. Usually I try to offer some sort of levity or humor with my gardening stories, but central Texas is in serious shape. Even with a recent rain of several inches, we are still in extreme drought conditions. I want to record the events of the past few months, as they are history making. Before I get into the plants that did and didn’t survive the summer, let me begin by stating the facts. The Summer of 2009 in Central Texas was the hottest summer ever recorded here.
We suffered through 68 days over 100+ degrees, with the hottest being 107 F on June 25. The 95+ days began early in May and never let up. And realize that while 68 days were over 100 degrees, the days that weren’t officially that hot were in the upper 90’s and unofficially over 100 F at many gardeners homes.
And all of this heat was happening as, in May 2009, we entered into the 20th month of our severest drought since the dustbowl days of the 1950s. From June to August, the official rainfall total for the entire time was 1.63 inches. YES, I said LESS THAN TWO INCHES TOTAL of rain fell while the Deathstar blazed away in the sky.
Our lake levels reached their lowest points in 30 years, and for a big part of the summer, our primary reservoir (also used as a recreational lake) was – and still is – inaccessible due to the boat launching ramps all being in dry ground. I can only imagine what the lake restaurants and businesses are doing to stay alive.
We are now 30″ short on rainfall totals since August of 2007; it was more than that until last week’s rainfall finally gave our parched earth a drink.
Austinites are, of course, accustomed to some water rationing for watering lawns and gardens most every summer. This year, the twice weekly limitations of watering soil that had no lingering moisture from any rains over 1″ at a time for two years weren’t enough for plants to flourish, or even survive. We are now limited to once a week watering, stage two drought conditions. Even experienced Master Gardeners lost favorite plants and babied others in the hopes that next year they will grow.
As for myself, definitely NOT a master gardener, my garden began extensive replanting and renovations at the beginning of this two year drought. Had I had a crystal ball, I certainly wouldn’t have invested so much time and money into new plants, bulbs, mulch, food, compost, labor, blood, sweat and tears into such a thankless task of keeping a new garden alive through extreme conditions.
I began the spring with my usual optimism; surely this summer couldn’t be as bad as the summer of 2008, which broke records with its heat, days over 100 degrees and lack of rain. SURELY this summer would be better! With enthusiasm in March and April, I painted the deck, put up a new gazebo to sit under and gaze at those new plants, even put in a completely new bed and path with glass mulch.
This will give you a good glimpse of what the summer was like. Here’s the gazebo in April, fresh and clean, with blooming containers and freshly mulched paths and beds:
As the heat soared, my gardening motivation decreased conversely. Beginning in June, I no longer went outside other than to hand water in the morning and at dusk, when temps were often still over 100. There was no sitting in the new gazebo (I’ve had exactly one meal out there since it was purchased), and no blooms to look at.
Here’s the reality of what I didn’t let anyone see in August, when I’d given up caring:
Everything was dirty from lack of rain and not cleaning the deck in order to conserve water. The velcro that I had used to hold up the curtains melted in the unrelenting heat. Even the cat stopped lying on his favorite blue chairs and found a cooler place near the waterfall, underneath the deck to hide from the searing sun. I stopped my frequent outdoor grilling of dinner; it was just too damned hot.
I decided to begin to remove dead plants once it cooled off; I guess that counts as now since it was only 95 today. We did have a few days of cooler temps, but unfortunately I was out of town and couldn’t rejoice in the break from the heat.
So far, here’s my list of plants that died:
1 Salvia Greggii
3 Hibiscus (no surprise there)
2 River Ferns (I believe if they weren’t such babies they would have survived)
1 confederate Jasmine – new transplant
several succulents burned up, literally
Ice plant in various places
Yellow Bulbine, newly transplanted
Several daylily bulbs were dug up by foraging squirrels, desperate for food
All container plants died except for 3 Ivy Geraniums and 1 Echeveria. I just couldn’t keep up watering twice daily, especially when out of town
3 Viburnum shrubs, large shrubs transplanted last fall as passalongs from Sharing Nature’s Garden
Plants that are borderline, meaning they may never recover and might need to be removed:
- Bleeding Heart Vine
- Cannas – (I thought Cannas could survive almost anything, but mine grew about 18″ tall and never bloomed or grew any further)
- Agapanthus – never bloomed this year
- Double Delight Rose
- Several bulbs that were planted last fall, including oxblood lilies from Southern Bulb Company, never surfaced
But perhaps the most discouraging to me is that after two years of this new garden, it still looks sparse. Barely surviving through 24 months of record heat and drought, the plants have grown scarcely at all. I can only hope that they have set in roots and perhaps next year they can come alive with the promises of water from El Nino this winter.
I know when the weather finally cools (in December?) I will once again feel motivated to clean out the beds, clear the old, dead mulch, feed and trim everything, and once again hope for blooms and growth. Until then, I leave you with pictures from the wasteland of my back yard. Avert your eyes if you are especially sensitive!