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Annie Calovich: After the heat wave, what plants have survived, thrived?

I had been wondering, when the temperatures were unceasingly in the 100s, how the 90s could possibly feel.

Now I know. Actually livable.

I hope our plants recover some of their vitality now that they are not being relentlessly baked. I hope the rainfall they’ve gotten in the past week has been enough to do them some good.

While our memories are still sharp from the heat wave (and no, I’m not suggesting that we’re out of the woods for this year), we should acknowledge survivors and, more importantly, thrivers.

No plant should have been without water this summer. So take note of shrubs and perennials and trees that have done just fine with the proper care. Those that are receiving water and thriving are keepers. Those that aren’t getting water and are still managing to live — they get their own gold star. But we may want to wait a while to assess their long-term health before we deem them keepers.

You probably have joined me in seeing one reliable flowering shrub around town this summer: the crape myrtle. Its usually medium-pink flowers have often been the only spot of color in an increasingly drab landscape.

Crape myrtles like lots of sun and water. But they have a long taproot so eventually become pretty drought resistant.

This summer is teaching lessons beyond plant choice. In particular, it is pointing up the need to place a plant in the right location. For example, community forester Tim McDonnell of the Kansas Forest Service points out, redbuds are, by nature, understory trees. This means that they flourish under outcroppings or under other trees, somewhat sheltered. But we tend to put them where they’ll fill an empty hole in the yard, without the tenet of a layered garden. And redbuds planted out in the middle of a yard are crashing this summer, Tim says. We maybe got away with the out-in-the-open scenario in better-weather years. But there was no place for this mistake to hide this year.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how Titan Pure White vinca is looking great at the Extension Center entrances. Brenda Meyer wrote me that she planted some three years ago.

“The following year I had a whole bunch of volunteers where I had planted them,” Brenda wrote, “and they filled in the area more than the first year. So last year when the second year of volunteers came up, I moved some of the volunteers here and there in my garden. So this year I had volunteer plants coming up in several areas.

“They have done well in all this heat and they are so eye-catching and quite striking in the evening. Not only have I not had to replace them each year, but they have turned out to be a perennial, in the sense that they come back each year, just as beautiful as the year before and with more plants.

“I know some people don’t have patience for seedlings to grow, but they end up being so healthy, as their root system is well established. Yay for any flower that can handle this extreme heat!”

Crape myrtles prefer full sun when they receive a moderate amount of water, says Cheryl Boyer, a nursery crops specialist at K-State. In the South they grow more as trees than shrubs; in Kansas they die back over a cold winter. Check the zone when you buy one; some aren’t hardy here. You can increase their chances by growing them in a protected spot (there’s the good location again) — next to a building or in the understory of larger trees, Boyer says.

And check the mature size that the crape myrtle will get. It comes in many sizes, and you will not be able to maintain a certain size if it’s getting too big for a certain spot in your yard.

Crape myrtles make the list of plants that are good for a bee garden — a big feather in their cap for me.

Drop me an e-mail or a note with the names of your summertime gems. While microclimates differ from yard to yard, we all need to learn from one another.

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