The Aftermath of 116 Degrees

Record breaking weather. Again. It seems we say that every season - be it late freezes or early infernos. We endured another; literally an historic high temperature of 116 degrees two weeks ago. We knew it was coming so planned for it the best we could, guessing that watering would be the #1 thing to do. So we did. For several days just about everything received a good soaking right up until the heat hit; we then stopped watering during the heat of the day, it would have evaporated. Many of my friends shaded less heat tolerant plants with shade cloth; on two acres we gave up on that notion. 

A concern I had was that there are certain plants that will shut down when the soil is too saturated and the air temperature is high. Arctostapylos fall into this category - they suffer terribly if watered in hot weather. We avoided watering these kinds of plants as much a possible but at 116 degrees, who knew what else might shut down? Uncharted territory.

The usual suspects - Hydrangeas, shade plants and water lovers suffered the most, but I am pleased that the damage was minimal overall. The xeric plants in my garden for the most part suffered no damage I can detect, in fact a couple like the Romneya coulteri perked up and is blooming more than it ever has. The many West Cost native plants look terrific and are quite adapted to drought and intense sun, but no one knew what would really happen at an historic 116 degrees. This post aims to document the aftermath and hopefully solidify the survivors to keep adding.

Let's dive in and look at some of the damage. But first, here's a vignette that fared quite well - Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans', Opuntia no i.d., Cistus 'Paper Moon', Artemisia 'Powis Castle', Liatris sp. and foreground bottom just barely visible is Agave neomexicana. All, save for the liatris, are drought tolerant plants in gravelly soil. The liatris seeded itself where it is, by the way. I would not have thought to add it to this location, but I like it. Sometimes plants know better.

Surprisingly Sedum spurium cultivars were crispy in certain areas. A common thread through what was damaged is that they were exposed to intense high afternoon sun on the hottest day. Others just a few inches on either side were basically fine. Reflected heat and direct afternoon sun were key reasons for damage, a factor almost impossible to control.

Hydrangea 'Nikko Blue' actually recovered quite well as compared to what they looked like during the peak of heat. Yes, the blossoms are crispy but the plants survived. If they weren't so pretty we'd rip them out. I'm still tempted, as no other plant on this property requires as much water as macrophylla forms of hydrangea. Other forms such as serrata, quercifolia and paniculata fared much better.

Much of the Hydrangea macrophylla foliage looks like this, even though they didn't necessarily receive direct sun.

Stachyurus praecox foliage looking much the same as the hydrangea. For the record, these are all in a good amount of high, overhead shade.

Many sedums became bleached out and shriveled up - testament to the fact that they do indeed need supplemental water. This is Sedum reflexum which should be a pale silvery blue color.

Combine a salix or willow with white variegation and you're asking for trouble. Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki', a water lover for sure but also one that needs some sun to get good coloration on its leaves. It will recover, I am sure. Salix are tough.

Under dappled sun even Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis' suffered leaf burn. The flowers all shriveled and dropped too. Rosa glauca, Rosa pomifera, Rosa rugosa all look fine.

Hydgrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers' has the faintest browning on the flowers, barely detectible. These are in a lot of sun and high, overhead shade for part of the day. 

One surprise was Euphorbia grifithii 'Dixter' - I have two of them and both look the same. 

More sedum damage - note on either side it is fine, this is just where hot afternoon sun hits perfectly.

This saddens me a lot - Penstemon pinifolius 'Melon' might not make it. Quite surprising, too.

The winner of the fried leaf award goes to my poor blueberries and gooseberries. They suffered so much, just after they really began to take off. This is a blow. Even the fruit is crumbly. They did get water but they also get full sun all day.

More blueberry damage. Of the dozen blueberries, three look fairly healthy. I am confident they'll grow out of it so long as "record breaking" and "weather" aren't in the same sentence for a couple of years. We'll see. 

Not only is the gooseberry foliage dried up and shriveled, the fruit got burned too. They are supposed to be green. As a matter of fact, most of the ribes species did not like this hot weather. Ribes odoratum and R. sanquineum that were in sun are very unhappy.

My pile of debris clean up from this past weekend. Casualties. A lot of that is raspberry debris, I think that they may have verticillium wilt and I did a big clean up on them. Many lettuces and greens bolted, so the leftovers after the chickens had at them are also piled up.

There are many others not pictured such as Aruncus dioicus that was in a good shot of afternoon sun, hardy fuchsias that were in the same area. They all perked back up after a soaking and cooler weather, but foliage damage on the aruncus is bad. Another surprise was Berberis darwinii - it's alive but about 75% of its leaves are completely brown. A second specimen around the corner is fine. The damaged one was near the euphorbia - in the full baking sun on the south side of the Himalayan mounds. My Fatsia japonica 'Spider Web' was flat on the ground in the height of the heat, it has since perked back up and lost a couple lower leaves but looks fine. It doesn't receive a lot of supplemental water in summer, just average, so I was surprised. I suppose there's a tipping point for moisture and soil temperature for such plants and we reached it.

Moving on from damage, I shared images last week of plants I would keep my eye on. Let's review how they did. First up, Itea ilicifolia survived and looks rather good, actually. This is next to the 'Nikko Blue' hydrangeas.

Atriplex halimus, salt bush, south facing with reflected heat said "no problem". It's a keeper. More of this, please.

A scene I featured last week looks virtually the same after the inferno. Teucrium chamaedrys is beginning to bloom and the bumble bees are all over it. More of this too, please.

Eryngium giganteum looking ghostly and gorgeous, bees all over this beauty, too. It did not skip a beat and is in full sun all day until late afternoon.

Quercus hypoleucoides, silver oak, looks fantastic. It was meant for such weather.

Agastache 'Kudos Red' looks the same - that is to say pretty darned good.

Here's a closer look at Teucrium chamaedrys

Berkheya purpurea, South African thistle. I'm not surprised it looks great (being a thistle and all), but wanted an excuse to include it here.

Artemesias fared very well. A. 'Powis Castle'

Artemisia versicolor 'Sea Foam' never looked better.

All the lavenders look fantastic, too. 

Although a little fluffy from the flowers finishing up, Dorycnium hirsutum also did not skip a beat. This seeds around in my gravel, but that's ok, I pot them up and give them away. 

In the wilder regions of the garden, Spiraea douglasii, our native spiraea looks great and did not really get any extra water at all, which surprises me. No burning on the leaves that I can see either.

All the arctostaphylos look great, this one has never looked better - Arctostaphylos silvicola, 'Ghosty' manzanita. Before the heat it was actually the weakest of all the arctos in my garden but this is what it wants, clearly. 

Same with Romneya coulteri, Matilija poppy - it has never bloomed so much. It struggled to establish, but now I believe it's here to stay.

The cistus also fared well as expected, but their blooms all shriveled up and there's a lot of foliage and petal litter all over making them look messy. A few yellow leaves, but overall they are ok (I hope). My fear is that whatever water they received before the inferno was too much for them. Time will tell. Hebes also look fantastic and were given decent water before hand.

Also, I wonder if you noticed a theme with those plants that fared well. Many have silver foliage, a clue as to their origins (think Mediterranean or other hot places) and other West Coast native plants also fared very well. I'm pleased I have many of both represented in this garden.

Really just about everything else weathered the storm, from echinacea to stipa to armeria to asclepias to penstemon to chamaecyparis to hostas. I was lucky. FM watered well. We both watered well.

Finally to wrap it up a look at a few wider shots of the garden post-inferno. These bronze carex look nice, I thought the carex would all fry but they are in enough high overhead afternoon shade that they were spared.

A scene viewed last week too, the Santolina virens and S. 'Lemon Queen' both sailed through the heat with no issues. 

The "meadow" is also fine. There is such dense planting in there that no sun could possibly penetrate the ground. 

On a "normal" 85-degree day the garden feels pretty fresh.

And to wrap it up, after being pent up inside an air conditioned house for several days, Annie is happy to be playing in the thyme field.

And my birthday boys, FM and Hobbes. Hobbes' birthday was yesterday, the 7th, he's 16! My FM's birthday is today. Happy Birthday, FM! Thank you for all you do, we all love you to the moon and back!

And that's a wrap.

Time will tell the extent of damage that may be unseen right away. Trees might suffer in ways undetected by the human eye and whose damage may take months or even years to manifest. For now, what I observed is documented here.

What lessons did I learn? Nature always has the last word. During all of this, it felt silly to have a garden. It was freakishly hot. I know, places such as Arizona and Sacramento feel it regularly, but we don't. There is such a thing as being acclimatized. So what's next in the world of such extremes? I'm not one to baby every plant I have - that would be impossible. What I have to do is let go. I have to say "let the survivors stay" and move on. Otherwise, I could go crazy trying to protect agaves from winter storms and hydrangeas from summer heat. I don't want to have to protect my plants through the seasons, I want to enjoy the garden and my life. So. Watering a little? Sure. Moving pots out of the direct sun? Yes. But I think I'm learning to let things be.

Thank you for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you! Happy gardening everyone!


  1. Your garden looks like it fared very well considering the record breaking temps. Really surprised by the sedums and Penstemon pinnifolilus. The Lower Mainland of BC had similar temperatures and it has apparently destroyed this year's blueberry crop. Gardeners always try and push the zone. Mother Nature steps in occasionally to humble us. Happy Birthday FM and Hobbes. Enjoy your day.

    1. It did fare well, considering. Yes, the sedum and penstemons were a bit of a surprise to me, too.

      Oh, that's so sad about the blueberry crops in BC - people everywhere will be feeling the ripple effects of this for a long time, I think.

      Thanks for your well wishes, FM had a great birthday! :)

  2. I'd been wondering how your garden fared in the heat. I'm not surprised to see that plants that do well here in the Sacramento Valley made it through unscathed or even thrived (looking at you, Romneya coulteri).

    I've lost more Penstemon pinifolius that I care to count, seemingly to high heat and/or too little water. I cannot figure this one out. It should do well, but it doesn't.

    Eurasian sedums (like spurium) have a hard time here in the summer, esp. in sunny spots. Your experience seems to confirm it. I've also lost four Delosperma hybrids. So not all succulent groundcovers do well in high heat.

    Overall though, I'm very happy to see how great your garden looks two weeks later.

    1. I was wondering if we'd have a similar situation as in your neck of the woods. Interesting about your Penstemon pinifoilus - do you think it's a lack of water or perhaps wet soil and hot air combination? I can't figure it out, either. So odd. I have similar issues with heterophyllus forms of Penstemon.

      Interesting about your sedums (spurium) - and yes, I preach that not all succulents are no-water plants. Some even prefer a bit of shade.

      Thanks for your encouragement, Gerhard! I now have an especially empathetic view of your gardening conditions in high summer. You're an amazing gardener!

  3. So much to learn from what you've shared here! I always envisioned an old-fashioned Portland/English country garden style garden, full of the sort of things that thrive in a damp and mild climate... but the current reality...? Time to recalibrate.

    With all the watering I did, we fared to first crazy days well enough, but the big final one caused all the damage. And for us, most of the worst of it came with the freakishly hot wind that picked up in the afternoon. Most things are going to make it, just might not look their best for the rest of the year. The only pretty sure death is a hebe - fairly shaded - that looks like someone set it on fire. : (

    Live and learn... and adapt!

    A big happy birthday to David, my birthday twin!!!

    1. I'm so glad you took something from this post and my experiences with this heat wave. That's why we share information, after all.

      Ah, yes, the dream of the cottage/English style garden were alive and well 10 years ago but I fear the climate has shifted too much to sustain that.

      But your garden will fare well I'm sure, you take such good care of your beautiful space and plants are resilient. As you say, they might not look good now but if we don't have another inferno like that, they will likely look fine next year

      We hope you had a fab birthday! DP/FM and I had a lovely day hiking Mt. St. Helens and getting out of the house for a change!

      Cheers, birthday twin to FM!

  4. I’m glad your garden came through the extreme heat wave mostly intact. I agree that it takes the fun out of gardening to have to try to protect plants from the weather multiple times a year, although I do some of that with succulents that I try to protect from freezing. I think the challenge for all gardeners in coming years will be figuring out which plants can take the extremes on both ends and planting more of those.

    1. Ah, yes - well said, Pam. The extremes on both ends - for you too! That crazy freezing event changed your whole region this season and for years to come, I'm sure. We'll all be feeling the impacts of such extremes for many years - especially when we lose established large trees and shrubs that took a long time to get to a good size and provide cover and habitat for other plants and critters.

      I don't mind moving pots around and protecting things but I think what you went through in winter and what we went through two weeks ago are pushing the limit - at least for this gardener.

  5. Anonymous12:27 PM PDT

    I used the same strategy you did- water thoroughly before the hot days so everything was well hydrated. I refuse to rush around in high anxiety mode covering things. (Does this make me a realist or a mean gardener-or just a lazy one?)
    Your 'Nikko blue' has recovered better than mine did. But then, I'm on the east side of the metro area that does get the gorge winds. They're murderous. The wind was unbelievable. It was already 115 but you could feel the heat in the wind- like sitting in front of a fan in front of a space heater. I think it's going to come out. Do you want another one?
    My Ribes had surprisingly minimal damage but they're all in part shade. Unfortunately the neighbor's escaped raspberries and the blackberry that I grows under the fence that I cannot seem to get rid of seemed to thrive.
    The full sun birds'nest spruce now really looks like a dried out bird nest, and the Alberta behind it is pink. They're surprisingly resilient for evergreens, though. Just a bit of shade on my other bird's nest had it without any damage at all. Dahlias, *in pots* no damage- they did get extra water several times though. Daylilies, some have damage, some are fine. I think they're in need of thinning anyway and seem to be kind of water hungry. Weeds? just more evidence why they are so successful, sigh. Maybe I should switch to them? And yet, my peas and cucumbers are fine. I've been skipping tomatoes this year after a frustrating year last year- looks like I picked the wrong year to skip again.

    In general, I lose lots of things most people don't. But I've been on a sink or swim tough love thing for a bit so I'm learning what can really stand up to anything. Love seeing your garden. I'm wanting to go more hardy/low water use and seeing what succeeds for you is inspirational.

    Extra scritches for the fur people and happy birthday wishes to your FM!

    1. Oh, those winds. I am so sorry you had that to add insult to injury.

      Aah, thanks for the offer for the hydrangea but I think we'll pass ;) - I think I'll have fewer hydrangeas in my future, actually.

      Glad your ribes survived - it's that darned intense direct sun that did the most damage. Sorry the weeds didn't get fried for you, though! Darn!

      The trees are what I'm worried about long-term, I think we'll continue to see signs of stress as the months go by.

      That's crazy about your dahlias in pots! We think we know about how to grow plants and then they up and surprise us.

      Tough love might be the way to go for many of us in the future. Low water is the best thing I ever did when planning this garden.

      Thank you for the well wishes, and take care and THANK YOU for your thoughtful comments. We hope your garden comes out shining in the end.

  6. A good analysis. And if you planted more santolinas and thymes, it would rain torrents - just like it's doing in Ontario now.

    1. Thank you - and yes, you are right about planting santolinas...ha ha...(sigh) - well, I hope your rain is welcome! We could sure use some!

  7. Here in my S. Oregon well watered and heavily vegetated garden the temperature didn't go over 110. The thermometer is is the shade, which I believe is where it is supposed to be. A big leaf hydrangea wilted completely. I would throw it away, and may yet, but it was a gift when my sister was dying of cancer. Why do people give plants? Another thing to take care of when you are overwhelmed. Anyway, I have several oak leaf hydrangeas and they all look great. The ones in shade bloom anyway and look better. The one in sun suffers burned flowers every summer even though the sun is off by 3PM. I had to move my Ribes sanguineum to full shade because of the leaf burn.
    My sister and I bought this house on 1/3 acre 11 years ago. It's in town, but has a well and I planted accordingly anticipating no water problems. Well, I wish I'd done mostly natives because the watering is as huge a chore as anything I could ever imagine, especially since it's only me now. I believe I will go into retreat and start removing the plants that need so much water. The difference between my garden and yours is that it will remain hellish down here until mid to late September, the only relief being shorter days.
    Oh, that reminds long did it take your Berberis jamesiana to bloom? I got mine 4 years ago, small, from Far Reaches and it's about 3x3 now. No flowers. The leaves scorch a bit every summer here in full sun, but it's too thorny to move.
    Thanks! It was great to unburden myself a bit and as usual your post was lovely and informative.

    1. Hi Barb,
      Yes, some plants have sentimental significance and we carry on caring for them. I have some of those, too.

      Interesting to see what fared well for you in Southern Oregon. I think the macrophylla hydrangeas fried all over the area and the oakleaf ones all did much better - they are more adapted to less water.

      Sorry about the watering being a huge chore, we can certainly relate. And yes, your climate is hotter, I'm sorry it will be so hellish for so long.

      Berberis jamesiana only took a year to bloom, but it was given to me by a friend and at that point I think it was already a couple of years old. That's too bad it scorches! I have mine surrounded by other plants so I think it's a little protected and gets some morning sun.

      Unburden away, Barb! That's what we're here for - a community of gardeners. Glad you enjoyed the post, thanks again for commenting and reading! Cheers and we hope the rest of your summer shows some mercy on your garden.

  8. We were the developments across the pond. Glad to see that on the whole your garden coped really well with the heatwave.

    1. Ah, thanks guys! On the whole, yes - we got lucky. Your garden is looking great these days, by the way!

  9. Uncharted territory indeed. Your survivors are many, hopefully as you survey the garden they are what stand out. Although damn, those fruit losses suck!

    I guess I can look at the ankle injury as a chance to see what my garden can do through heat like this with minimal assistance. We deep watered the back garden, moved a few things that would have been burnt to a crisp in the sun (bromeliads) but other than that things were on their own—and they actually did quite well, overall. Thanks for this look at your garden, post heat.

    Oh wait... I do have a question. How is your Grevillea x gaudichaudii? Do you give it any summer water?

    1. The fruit losses DO suck, Danger. I'm sad about them.

      You sound pretty well set up, I'm glad your garden fared pretty well! I checked on the grevillea after I saw your comment and it's fine - it never really received direct water - I really never water it - but FM sometimes runs the sprinkler in the morning in that area, maybe once every few weeks for 20 minutes or so. Maybe it gets a little extra from plants above it that do get a little more water. In any event, it fared very well as did all the grevilleas. Yay for that!

  10. Your garden did really well but I'm not surprised given how savvy you are when it comes to plant culture. Advance watering is key here too but I agree that watering in the midst of the crisis is foolish at best and sometimes deadly. I've given up a lot of plants I grew in my former cooler, shadier garden just 15 miles away (like Hydrangeas) and I've learned that some plants (even agaves) will get scorched but will recover in time. We haven't yet had an extreme heatwave this year like the one you experienced here along the SoCal coast but it's just a matter of time. It's the sustained high nighttime temperatures after the very high daytime temperatures that can be the most destructive.

    1. You are too kind, Kris! It's so interesting to me that your two gardens, only 15 miles apart, are so different in their cultural conditions/requirements. That speaks a lot to your ability to perceive what plants want, that in the same areas micro climates and other influences (the sea) make a huge difference in what will grow.

      Yes, those darned high night time temps are the worst. I hope you don't have an extreme heatwave, crossing all fingers for you.

  11. Those blowtorch days were educational, for sure. Holy moly... So sorry you lost so many gooseberries and blueberries - it was brutal to see so many plants struggle. I too, was really surprised Dixter didn't handle better - mine in the community garden fried, too. More than ever, I was thankful for the shade I have. I credit the canopy for the fact that most things came through as well as they did. And it was fascinating to see leaves completely curled up in self-preservation. When I first saw them, I thought for sure they were toast, but as soon as the sun sank below the canopy, they started unfurling again. Miraculous!

    1. Oh, the berries...SO SAD. I know.

      Your Euphorbia 'Dixer' fried too? So did the ones at work. I wonder why? The other euphorbias all look fine. VERY interesting....

      Oh, plants are so fascinating. Miraculous indeed!


  12. With the urban heat island effect, those kind of temps might be a lot more common, so the plant report is much appreciated! The fruit loss is tough --which brings to mind that the agricultural community must be dealing with losses too. (FWIW, the blue hydrangeas were my least fav plants in the garden and struck me as slightly out of character -- but couldn't bring myself to write that!)

    1. Oh you are so correct, Denise, we fully expect more of this to come, sadly. The agricultural comment is spot-on, I think there will be blueberry shortages this year not to mention raspberries and others. Surprisingly the veggie garden didn't skip a beat save for the bolting of the lettuce, so perhaps there's some hope??

      Yes, the blue hydrangeas are a bit out of character, I agree. We inherited them and FM loves them, so they stay until we can't take the watering any more.

  13. Your garden did pretty well considering the ferocity of the weather. Lots of beauty, still--so you must be doing a lot right in plant selection and care.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing how your garden fared, I was so very curious! Mine did better than expected, some of my blueberries are a little burnt but I was very surprised that the fruit did ok. My serviceberry thrived, I'm experimenting with pawpaws and the leaves shriveled, I'm very worried about them. And yes, the gooseberries! I can't remember what variety I have, they turn red when ripe so I was so surprised to see the berries were a light pink. I thought perhaps they enjoyed the heat but no, I tasted one and it literally tasted like dirty smoke. I'm very disappointed, it's a newish bush and I was looking forward to a nice harvest this year.
    I saw in the Oregonian that they recommended waiting to prune the dead foliage until normal pruning time, what is your recommendation on that? Thank you so much for sharing your garden and your expertise!

    1. Hi Monica, So glad so many plants did well for you - especially the serviceberry.

      I tasted my gooseberries too and they are awful! Just burned like yours.

      We are waiting to prune dead foliage if it is a woody plant, but if it's herbaceous and the stem/leaves are dead, dead is dead and it's ok to take it off if you wish. BUT the dead bits could be shading other parts of the plant that helped to keep it alive, so it's really the gardener's call. If hot weather is in the forecast it might be good to leave as much as you can for protection. Again, your call.

      Woody shrubs/trees - we are pruning bits if they really are dead but if the cambium is green on the stem, I leave it to go through its cycle and drop leaves in fall, resprout in spring, etc.

      Thanks for your comments and for reading the blog! Cheers!


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