Thanks to Dustin Stoll, Director of Horticulture at Tulsa Botanic Garden for sharing this timely bit of wisdom with us!
If the last two years have taught us anything here in Tulsa, it has been that you can’t always rely on Mother Nature to be predictable. In February 2021, we saw a record breaking freeze, dropping to -15 in a lot of the surrounding areas. It was followed this summer by one of the worst stretches in history for high temperatures and drought.
Humans aren’t the only living things that suffer under these extreme changes. For a lot of plants around town, these two weather extremes were the final blows that they just couldn’t recover from. Although unfortunate, we cannot escape the reality that every plant will die at some point. One of my favorite garden writers, Greg Grant, wrote a fantastic article back in August for The Arbor Gate, which discussed the unrealistic expectation we often have that plants will live forever. We have seen a lot of plant death and damage around town over the last couple of years, including crape myrtles, chaste trees, yaupon hollies, native post oaks and blackjack oaks, etc.
Even though plants don’t live forever, there are still a few steps that we can take to keep them as healthy as possible.
- Water – Just like humans, plants need water to survive, especially during periods of drought. Do some research about the plants you have at your home, learn about their water requirements, and water them accordingly.
- Mulch – Not only does mulching help your planting beds look nice, but there are also benefits for the plants. It helps retain moisture in the soil, reducing the amount you need to water. Mulch also helps maintain a consistent soil temperature for your plants to thrive. With too little mulch, soil temperatures will fluctuate a lot, making it difficult for plants. 3 inches is the ideal depth. Anything more is not necessary and gets expensive.
- Fertilize – With our harsh Oklahoma climate over the last couple years, a lot of plants have spent their nutrient reserves. To replenish the plant with the nutrients it needs, fertilizing is a great option. I always recommend doing a soil test first to make sure you actually need to fertilize. Timing of fertilizer is also very important. Spring is always a good time to fertilize, helping your plants grow and thrive through the summer months. Fall can be another great time to fertilize, but be careful of timing. If you fertilize before it gets cold, your plants might produce a bunch of new growth. That new growth is more sensitive, and will probably end up getting damaged when it does get cold. Ideally, you should wait until several weeks after temperatures are consistently dropping below freezing, when plants are fully dormant. The plants will store the extra nutrients in their roots until spring when it starts growing again.
Despite the harsh weather we’ve had over the last couple of years, a lot of plants are pretty resilient and will recover with some time and TLC. Don’t let the trauma of this summer and last February scare you away from planting and gardening. I hope it has the opposite effect, spurring everyone on to continue experimenting and discovering new plants that thrive in our climate.