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As far as gardening similarities, lots of people in East Texas and into the Houston area probably have very similar gardening situations as you do. Houston is more humid than East Texas though, because like you, they are close to the coast. But East Texans probably could help too.
Anyway, us Texans (& non-Texans) here in this forum would be happy to assist you with anything you have questions about. Anyway, we don't discriminate against non-Texans. We are all members of Dave's Garden and that's all that matters. :-)
That money wasn't *wasted* on plants that didn't survive, it was just money spent for *education*! :-)
I looked for Mandeville on Yahoo maps, but couldn't find it, so I'm glad you said you have a humid climate. On another thread I responded to, I said that those of us in the upper Gulf coast have a LOT in common with you gardeners in LA. The high humidity on top of the heat is the very reason. Unfortunately, most plant information gives a hardiness rating, which only means how cold a winter the plant will survive. What is better for us to know, is the heat tolerance - many plants grown in northern climates could certainly survive our mild winters, but they bake in the ground in summer, so never make it to winter at all!
I have found that cultivating a good relationship with a local independent nursery - one that sells natives to your area, etc, - is an invaluable tool in your arsenal. They really want to keep your business, and they have to compete with the "box" stores, so they will really try to help you be sucessful. Another great resource is your local Extension Service. They can really help you with what grows best in your conditions. A book I can recommend is Mark Bowen's "Naturalistic Landscaping for the Gulf Coast." Also, check out The Lazy Gardener (Brenda Beust Smith) and Kathy Huber (gardening editor of the Houston Chronicle) for good information: http://www.chron.com/content/chronicle/gardens/index.html .
Anyway, we have lots to share! Welcome to the garden, and to this forum!
Good point Maggiemoo, about the heat. Parts of Oregon are 8b but the summers are nothing like Texas! The American Horticultural Society developed a heat zone map for the U. S. and Canada to complement the USDA hardiness map. The heat zone map considers many factors such as humidity, wind, elevation, etc., but the main one is the average number of days above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the point at which plants can begin experiencing damage to cellular protein. Most parts of Texas and Louisiana are heat zone 9, with a range of 120-150 such days, while most of Oregon is heat zone 4, with only 14 to 30 such days! Now I think I have clues as to why medlar, jostaberry, rhubarb, etc. haven't seemed to be happy here. Yuska http://www.ahs.org/pdfs/heatmap.pdf
Thanks for the heat zone map! Now to find a plant list that also includes heat zone information. I rely heavily on Neil Sperry's Compete Guide to Texas Gardening and Sunset's National Garden Book.
Danika, I think you would find these two books useful. Sunset's book divides the US into 44 planting zones. It takes more that hardiness into consideration. I used their Western Edition for years when I lived in San Jose and found it was very accurate. I went from Zone 16 to Zone 31 when I moved. Big change!
My hardiness zone is really probably 8b, but I call my zone 9a, prefering to list the heat zone, since that is what is generally more important for the survival of plants here. Doesn't sound like a lot of difference, but it does prompt me to keep to plants that like it hot, more than plants that list hardiness zone 8 as the bottom number.
Danika, the thing to keep in mind about planting the "cooler" plants, is that in our climate, they could use a break from the summer sun, especially the afternoon sun.
Garden Gate is one of the few magazines - maybe the only one - that lists both hardiness and heat zones for the plants it discusses. They also offer alternative plants, with different heat zones, if the ones they are suggesting in a plan are either too "cool" or too "hot" for your climate.
Thanks, BettyDee, for the book suggestions. I have the Sunset National Garden Book, and will look for Neil Sperry's book. As for a heat zone plant list, I have Marc Cathey's book - Heat Zone Gardening - very interesting, but he didn't list any vegetables!
I really like Garden Gate magazine. I'm debating about treating myself to the back issues.
Monrovia Nurseries now includes heat zone info on their plant tags.
I'm glad to hear this conversation. I'm on another list that is very international, and the hardiness zone thing is very misleading. Believe it or not most of Great Britain is in hardiness zones 8! The average High in during the month of July in London is 71f. I live in Zone 8 Texas and I can't imagine 71 degrees in July.
very good points Maggie. I really don't rely much on the zone hardiness. I mean we have really mild winters, so temps aren't the problem. It's surviving our months and months of nonstop rain that's the problem here. Plus we have very clay soil, so the combination of our soil (no matter how much I've tried to amend it with compost) and all that rain can be fatal in a few days to a plant that's the least bit sensitive to water. And the summer are long and hot with no rainfall for 6 or more months. We can make up for the water situation with a drip system, but the heat can't be 'fixed'. So although the zone map can help, there are so many other factors that are important when deciding if and where to put a plant in your garden.
At their best, both hardiness and heat zone maps are only guides, and there are
microclimates within each zone. Both maps were based on meteorological records of the U.S. The heat zone map takes in many factors which the original hardiness map did not (I hope that will change when the revised edition is released.) Elevation, humidity, proximity to large bodies of water can all cause variations, as can the wind activity... speed, direction and frequency. Also, urban areas tend to be warmer because of more heat absorbing paving, concrete buidlings, etc. Denver, Colorado is heat zone 7 while the surrounding area is zone 6. Even soil color makes a difference..,.black clay absorbs more heat while a light colored sandy loam tends to reflect away a bit of it. For those of us enduring unrelenting heat, mulch is an ally. We can drop the soil temps by as much as ten degrees, and slow down evaporation at the same time. Ideally, if other countries could formulate their own maps based on their own meterorological records, their gardeners could benefit enormously. Yuska
All this being the case I would agree with Yuska and suggest Neil Sperry's book. Just remember when using his book that your conditions are akin to East Texas. That is to say high rainfall and acidic soil.
I've been having the same debate about buying back issues of Garden Gate. I read in another thread that some magazine subscriptions are available on e-bay (what ISN"T availabe on e-bay?), and when I looked, I saw that Garden Gate subscriptions are not available, but some back issues are. You might want to check it out: http://search.ebay.com/Garden-Gate-magazine_W0QQsojsZ1QQfromZR40 . When I first looked, there were a bunch of collections available, it may be worth checking on periodically.
It sounds like your growing conditions are very much like the upper TX Gulf coast: way too much rain in Spring and Fall; long, hot, humid (but no rain) summers; mild winters; clay soil. Most of the plants recommended by The Lazy Gardener, Mark Bowen, and Kathy Huber are plants that can tolererate the swings from torrential rains to drought, heavy humidity, clay soils, extreme heat. Some of the things they preach the most are: plant in raised beds (to help the soil drain during those heavy rains); mulch, mulch, mulch (as Yuska said, it retains moisture in dry months, and moderates soil temp, thus protecting roots from frying); and try to give the plants a break from the sun, especially in the afternoon (plants that say "full sun" usually can't handle full-on TX summer sun all day).
Maggie, I agree...here a full sun plant still needs a break from sun and can't be out all day long in open full sun. Except the natives that grow in those conditions naturally and survive the 6+ months without any rainfall. LOL The problem with raised beds for me is that all the rainwater would collect in the center of my garden creating a horrible pool. I really should have put a ton more compost in the ground before I ever planted anything. Live and learn! The things that are in the ground already can't really be helped much except little by little adding compost to the soil. But whenever something doesn't work or I no longer like it, I sure do add a ton of compost to that soil before planting something else there! Like I said, live and learn...just wish I could have learned on a small portion of my garden rather than on the entire thing after everything was already planted! LOL. This spring I'm going to risk killing a lot of plants by digging them up carefully one by one and adding compost into their soil.
I'm also using a lot more mulch than I did the first year. Both "natural" mulch (fallen leaves and such) as well as river rocks and bark depending on where in the garden it is and what plants are there. I also try to add small layers of compost throughout the year...thus not shocking any of the plants by suddenly burying them deeper, but still amending the soil bit by bit. Ground cover plants are terrific for creating their own insulation...as well as for plants around them.
And with each passing season, I learn more about each section of my garden so that it all just keeps getting better. The "good" parts are great, and the problem areas get solved bit by bit. One of them got solved today in fact...a shady area that I had covered in 3 inches of compost for 2 years (the former compost pile LOL) . That bed had the best soil I've ever seen when I broke into it today! And the plants that went into it will definitely benefit from it. It will take time and a few years, but my goal is to amend each section of my garden like that until all the beds have good well draining soil...even if I can't really amend the soil where the trees are LOL.
And I'd dearly LOVE to replace all of my grass with Dichondra! I hate the grass, I'm allergic to it and itch everytime I have to deal with it and it's a constant chore to keep it mowed. But for now, it provides me with plenty of material for composting LOL.
Julie, don't worry about the trees not having received compost. The thinking now is to put very little compost into the planting hole. Too much and the tree will tend to wrap its roots in the good stuff when it needs to be sending them out into the basic soil to anchor itself. You are wise to realize that soil building is not instantaneous; Mother Nature has been at it a long time.
Thanks for the ebay suggestion, Maggie. While checking it out I also found a supply of the Sunset National Garden Book on half.com. I keep hoping for a revised edition, but It would be a huge undertaking for Sunset, of course. Yuska
Yuska, yep...there's no such thing as instant gardening. As much as we all want our gardens to be big and beautiful RIGHT NOW there's also beauty and joy in watching the teeny plants grow :-). All of my plants were started from little guys and the wonder I get every year...heck, every MONTH...at how much they've grown and how far they've come is the best part of gardening. :-) I just ripped out am Artemisia arborescens that I'd put in my first year here. I never really liked it except for how soft it is. It just always had brown older leaves on the bottom that never looked nice and it was a constant headache with the magnetic powers it has for aphids. In any case, I just didn't like it. So despite the fact that it was a nice big size and filled up a part of the garden like only a mature plant can...this afternoon I chopped it up, dug it up and threw it out! And in it's place I put a new much much smaller baby plant (whose botanical name I'm unsure of at the moment as I only have the hebrew name for it ;-). In any case, it's fun to take out, plant new and constantly revise and yet still allow the basic framework of the garden to continue growing and giving it's many visitors (both human and not) endless hours of peace and joy :-). Can you tell I love my garden? ;-)
I know what you mean about the slow learning process. We gardeners really aren't so good about being patient, but we're forced into it.
When I prepared my first raised bed, I didn't even think about the soil "settling", and in the space of one season that thing was flat as a pancake, at ground level again. I was concerned about the plants I already had in there, didn't want to "bury" them, so I asked the owner of my favorite nursery what could be done. She told me that most established plants don't mind being "lifted", and then having more (compost) soil added beneath them. It's better to do it in spring, when the roots are ready to take off again. Just take a shovel, "scoot" it under the plant (not too shallow, you want much of the root ball to stay intact), and lift up- maybe use a rock or board to help with the lever effect (is that the right term?) While one person is holding the plant up, the other can put good soil underneath. I tried this last spring (without any help) with the daylilies and a rose in the bed I told you about, they never blinked!
Maggie, thanks for the feedback about lifting mature plants. I've been thinking and planning how to raise up a lot of my plants and still keep good drainage for the rest of the garden. One local gardener, who made the same mistake I made, dug up his plants in the winter last year after a week without rain. He took every plant out of a 16 meter long bed (except the trees of course) making sure not to disturb the root ball any more than necessary, put them gently on a plastic sheet, and then went about turning over the dirt in the bed and adding bags and bags of compost with lots of bark too. Then he replaced the plants where they'd been before and gave the whole long bed a good drink. You wouldn't believe how well those plants responded...they also didn't even flinch at being lifted in winter...I guess because they were dormant anyway. He's going to do another bed this year and each successive year until he gets them all done. Because of his success last year, that's pretty much what I plan on doing too. Each year tackling one bed while still adding compost bit by bit to the rest of the beds. And in a few years all of my beds should have lovely soil that drains better and isn't like working with freshly mixed quick setting plaster in the winter and doesn't turn hard as a rock as soon as the sun starts to shine on it in summer. :-) And if I lose a few plants along the way, that's an acceptable price to pay for getting better soil for the rest of the plants :-).
I cannot express how impressed I am with the response to my post. By just saying it on this keyboard, does not truly say it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I truly appreciate all of your input. I have learned so much.