In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
September, 2000
Regional Report

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Pokeweed, or more politely inkberry, produces blooms and fruits simultaneously.

My Drought-Tolerant Plants

Despite a documented three-year decline in annual rainfall and my own admittedly conservative watering practices, I do have plants that will bloom this fall. Those plants that do well under such conditions are really adapted to the vagaries of our southern climate. Frankly, it wouldn't be autumn without them.

My Fall Bloomers

Here are some of my favorite fall bloomers: camellia ( Camellia sasanqua), sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), joe-pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), chrysanthemum 'Clara Curtis', wild aster (Aster praealtus), ironweed (Vernonia altissima), and my two top favorites - pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) and parlor maple (Abutilon pictum).

Pokeweed, also known as pokeberry and inkberry, produces blooms and dark-colored berries simultaneously. The parlor maple has solid yellow flowers on a 12-foot plant. I cut both plants back each year in early spring so they'll fit in the garden.

Fall Maintenance

Even though these drought-tolerant plants are tough, I still have to do some maintenance on them. With a hand cultivator, I scratch around perennials, loosening just the top half inch or so of soil; then I add a thin layer of compost and scratch it in with the cultivator. If they've got any old flowers from an earlier pitiful flush, I'll deadhead the plants but won't disturb them otherwise. Then I water once gently and pull any stray weeds to reduce the competition.

Making My Compost

I could buy compost to spread around my perennials, but I'd rather make it myself. It's too hot outside for me to really work the compost piles yet, but I've found that the simple wire-ring method makes it easy to start some more right away. Take a piece of hardware cloth or concrete reinforcing wire that's three or four feet high and five or six feet long. Stand it on the ground and make a ring, overlapping the ends about a foot to make it sturdy. Tie it together with plastic-coated twist ties or bend the metal back on itself. Then I dump in some of the leftover good compost, the latest grass clippings, and some of the new leaves already driven to drop by the drought. That'll hold the pile until time to really clean up the garden next month.


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