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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - August 22, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Container Gardens, Watering
Title: Patio plants suffering from heat in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My patio plants are burning up from the intense sun of Austin's August. Last year it even burned the leaves. Besides moving 40 plants to a shadier spot do you have suggestions on how to protect them? Would tomato netting help?

ANSWER:

Forty?! You moved 40 plants to a shadier spot? How many did you not move? How big a patio do you have? We have had gardens where we planted in the actual ground in the past, and we had lots of plants, but they had their roots in the cooling, nourishing earth. Our "garden" now is a 6' x 12' porch, that gets intense sun in the afternoon this time of year, and no sun in the winter. We have about 20 small, climate-adapted plants out there, in terra cotta pots, which help to keep the soil cool. When something starts to curl its leaves and shrivel, even with daily watering, it gets eliminated. People like us who have to have container gardens to have any garden at all must adapt to that. Planting native plants that are accustomed by eons of experience to the local conditions is a good start. Exotic plants, shade plants, delicate plants are probably not equipped to handle those conditions. Texas summer is brutal, and when the leaves start to curl, it's because they are trying to conserve the water that is leaving them because of transpiration. Think about it, how would you like to have your feet stuck in a teeny tiny pot and spend all your time out in the blazing sun, without a drink of water?

So, the moral is: Be more selective. Don't think you can plant anything you happen to like in those conditions. Plastic pots and even glazed pots can really collect the heat, while the evaporation through the sides of terra cotta pots is a cooling process for the soil. Read our How-To Articles A Guide to Native Plant Gardening and Container Gardening with Native Plants for some guidelines.

Since we don't know if you have predominantly sun or shade, whether you want annuals or perennials, or if there are special effects you like, we are not going to try to recommend specific plants. Rather, we recommend you go to our Recommended Species section, click on Central Texas on the map and then, using the sidebar on the right side, specify if you want herbs (herbaceous blooming plants), annuals or perennials, shade, sun and so forth. You can also look at grasses, shrubs and succulents. Always look at the page in our website on that particular plant to make sure it suits your purposes in terms of light, size and care requirements. And to answer your question, no, we don't think tomato screening would serve the purpose and don't think it would be very attractive, either. After all, you have your patio garden to have pleasant views of your garden, don't you?

 

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