UNITED STATES—Severe summer weather is something that we think that we do not need to contend with. It only rarely gets as unbearably hot here as it does elsewhere, and when it does, it usually gets breezy by evening, and somewhat cooler overnight. Aridity, or the lack of humidity, is another advantage, at least for us. The plants in our gardens are affected by warm weather very differently than we are.
Plants will tolerate significantly more warmth than we will, but only in conjunction with humidity. In our climate, we get one or the other, but not often both. In fact, humid warmth is so rare here, that when it happens, it causes spontaneous limb failure in trees that are not accustomed to it. Spontaneous limb failure occurs as vascular activity accelerated by warmth increases foliar weight, but humidity inhibits evapotranspiration (evaporation of moisture from foliar surfaces) that would decrease the weight.
The aridity and breezes that make warmth more comfortable for us accelerate evapotranspiration, which increases the need for moisture. Plants that lack adequate moisture wilt, and the foliage of some can get dehydrated or scorched. Wilted plants recover if watered soon enough. Dehydrated foliage is crispy and cannot recover. Severe dehydration kills buds, stems and entire plants.
Scorch is quite different from dehydration. It happens as overly exposed foliage literally gets cooked by sunlight. It is similar to sun scald on formerly shaded bark that gets cooked by sunlight after being exposed by pruning or other means of removal of adjacent vegetation. Scorch is more likely on inner foliage that had been recently exposed by pruning, or foliage near reflective surfaces.
Foliage can not recover from scorch. Damage is permanent, and should not even be pruned away. Just like foliage damaged by frost, outer foliage damaged by scorch shelters the inner foliage. Removal of damaged foliage exposes foliage behind it to subsequent damage. Besides, scorch typically damages only parts of individual leaves, so that undamaged parts continue to function.
Highlight: busy Lizzie
In only a few years, busy Lizzie, Impatiens walleriana, went from being one of the most popular warm season annuals to being unavailable in nurseries. It is now making a slight comeback. Most of those planted during their planting season last spring are now so profuse with bloom that their rich foliage is mostly obscured. Although they can be perennial, almost all get replaced in autumn.
The problem associated with their unavailability was that a type of downy mildew that is resistant to common fungicides had become a temporary epidemic among the growers who supply the plants. The disease is still out and about, so can still infect busy Lizzie, but is not such an epidemic after a few years of scarcity of host material for it to infest. Nonetheless, busy Lizzie is still risky.
Bloom is clear and cheery hues of pink, red, magenta, peachy orange, pale lavender and white. The five petaled flowers are about an inch or two in diameter. Leaves are a bit bigger than the flowers. Foliage and stems are succulent and very fragile, so will not tolerate traffic, and will die in winter if exposed to frost. The biggest plants can get almost two feet tall and three feet broad.
Horticulturist Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.wordpress.com.