The recent heatwave caused a lot of damage to plants, such as these burnt rhododendron leaves.


Summertime in the northwest is a great gardening time. There is lots of sunshine and warm soils to make plants grow, and as long as we remember to water, we can have some amazingly productive veggie gardens and luxurious landscapes (or at least some bodacious containers). Here are a few random comments to consider on the above topics.

FRIED SHRUBS: The recent heatwave left an indelible mark on many of our shrubs. The degree of sunburn we experienced is largely correlated with the moisture content of the soil (although adequate soil moisture alone would not have completely prevented all of the damage). I kept damage in my yard to a minimum by making sure the ground was well watered and by taking time every day to cool off the foliage.  Contrary to the popular myth, spraying the foliage of plants in the bright sunshine will not cause them to burn.  It will cool them off and help them survive the heat.  My hydrangeas wilted everyday but I was able to rescue them by spraying the foliage, and other than some crispy flower petals, they came through like troopers.  At this point in time, the damage is done and about all we can do is to trim off the worst of it, throw down some fertilizer to stimulate some replacement growth, and for heaven’s sake, water, water, water.

BURNT BASKETS: Again, water will always be the limiting factor in plant survival, but it is worth remembering that many of the hanging baskets that were purchased back in May were actually planted by the growers as early as February and so by now they are completely root-bound and keeping them watered is a challenge, even in normal summer temps. Once a basket dries out the only practical way to rehydrate it is to plunge it under water until it stops bubbling.  While it is theoretically possible to resurrect a dried-out basket by cutting it back and feeding it, it is usually not worth the effort. My advice is simple, “out with the old, in with the new”.  Either buy a whole new basket or start fresh by replanting the old one.  The season is young and you will get lots of enjoyment out of your efforts before winter arrives.

TROPICALS: Speaking of getting lots of enjoyment out of our efforts, tropicals like papyrus, tropical hibiscus, Mandevilla, and tender perennials like cannas, bananas, and dahlias, will all grow like weeds during the next few months and give you a show-stopping display that will be the envy of your neighbors all the way into late September.  While some of these plants will only be what I like to call “summer love affairs”, in our increasingly milder winters many will actually survive and come back the following spring.  In my book, they are well worth the investment.

So “carpe diem”, as the saying goes and keep on gardening.  There is no need to toss in the towel and feel like your yard has to look like Death Valley for the rest of the summer.  If you are concerned about the water bill, then let your lawn go dormant as it will come back in the fall, but don’t deny yourself the joy of a few spots of color or some freshly picked veggies or herbs.  It’s all part of what makes gardening what it is, a source of enjoyment and recreation that we can lose ourselves in during the dog days of summer. 

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville  and can be reached at


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