By Jody Jordan – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

The Garden Druid

Spring gardening for 2021 has been quite the adventure for anyone I have asked, thanks to the unprecedented freeze situation early in the year. Perennial plants that were generally hardy in Navarro County/ USDA Hardiness Zone 8a exhibited a wide range of survivability and many of the area’s lawns and landscaping have needed extra TLC or even replacement; and as we close in on summer experiencing a cooler than normal spring with many consecutive days of precipitation – I am wondering what impacts we still have not noticed from our wild winter. Couple yards still waiting for new replacement plants with growers all over the south who lost tons of baby plants intended for the shelves this spring and we’ve got quite the dilemma on our hands in the garden enthusiast world.

Many people are seeing tree and shrub damage, especially in species and varieties that are on the cusp on our growing zone. There is still the possibility that trees that budded out normally are damage in the functional nutrient and water layers that lie just below the surface of their bark. We may not know if the freeze permanently damaged them until fall. Others have been lucky giving shrubs and other permanent landscape items a little extra time to “wake up” and are finally seeing signs of life in things that seemed far gone.

At my little slice of paradise somewhere in the northeastern sector of Navarro County, there was definitely loss and perseverance, the latter being the plants I want to make sure I continue to tend, propagate, and/or replant. Those are the things I want to specifically share with you here, now.

Elephant ears – specifically Colocasia esculenta: The large, green (or purple variety) leaves make it obvious why it earned its common name, and it loves very wet planting locations near French drains, downspouts, ditches, or even a boggy area where a Texas air conditioner drains condensed water to the ground. Mine were mulched with both commercially available wood chip mulch and the natural plant material cut off at the ground when the plant died back. Even on the north side of my home where several feet of drift snow remained piled on their planting location for many days, they have survived with no additional care. For those looking for an impressive, large landscaping option I find the elephant ear still a great bet, even if the climate is feeling strange. There is no better way to give a tropical feel to garden beds than the elephant ear in any variety.

Elephant ears. – Courtesy photo

Hardy Hibiscus: Hibiscus is generally a tropical plant species that thrives in our Texas heat but cannot handle even our milder winter days without over wintering indoors. Hardy Hibiscus varieties were developed to combat that problem and promise a perennial herbaceous plant in colder zones that will come back when the temperatures are warm enough. Here in Navarro County, I brought in a lot of plants – so many that part of my home looked like I was preparing to turn it into a greenhouse – and my hardy hibiscus, cut off at the base when it died back, was mostly forgotten outside. In a pot. With only an old bedsheet to cover it with northern exposure. I was certain that I had made a mistake and would have to replace it but she had other ideas. Hardy, for sure. When asking for this type of hibiscus at a grower or store, look for the word “Hardy” in the name. I believe that it is a copyrighted/trademarked term for the varieties you need. You will be pleased by the continual dinner plate size (nine inches!) flowers when the heat ramps up.

Hardy hibiscus. – Courtesy photo

Crepe Myrtle (lagerstroemia): There are roughly 50 species and literally hundreds of varieties, colors, sizes and shapes of crepe myrtle to choose from and for good reason. This import from India/Asia and Australia might as well be considered native now, as we even have towns with crepe myrtle festivals honoring the recognizable flowering beauty. As suspected, mine have come back with healthy foliage and my fingers are crossed for a great bloom season soon. It is hard to visit any southern state and not see crepe myrtles because of the versatility and hardiness. Crepe Myrtle will remain a staple and can be considered for shrub and tree application.

Crepe myrtle. – Courtesy photo

The most surprising survivor in my garden for 2021 is Sedum, also sometimes referred to as “stonecrop.” Traditionally this succulent ground cover and “spiller” plant is very strong and hardy, but most plants that hold water in their foliage in that way – like cactus, agave, and other popular thick, fleshy plants – froze solid and the cell membranes within them burst. Without cover or care during the freeze, though, mine came through just fine. There are many varieties out there but my standouts are “Dragon’s Blood” which is a nice kelly green floret with red stems and edges, and “Lemon Coral,” a lime green/yellow variety with cluster foliage. Try these lovely fillers and ground covers in a rock garden, or as the front edge of beds in full sun, or even around shade trees where you cannot get grass to grow.

Gardening is not my job, but a passion and I learn as I go. I look forward to sharing more of my experiences with you, and to hearing yours. Whether it is experimenting with native plants to make a sustainable landscape, planting a butterfly garden or vegetables to fill your own belly, or putting some colorful flowers in a pot that make you smile– we can all make the earth a more beautiful place one plant at a time.

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