Wilt Chamberlain was one of the greatest players in NBA history, and the only guy to score over 100 points in a single game. But that’s not what this blog is about. I am talking about the other wilt. The one that happens when a plant needs water. Wilting plants tend upset people. But the appearance of a shrub or perennial drooping a bit is not necessarily a big deal. It is definitely a signal that said plant probably really needs a drink of water, but it is not a death sentence. Not by a long shot. In my experience plants recover from a bit of drought stress pretty dependably. I ought to know. As far as plant abuse goes, I pretty much am the Marquis de Sade of the horticultural world. (See my previous blog: If Plants Were People, I’d Be on Death Row).
What ought to upset folks are the ubiquitous Queen Palms with their chartreuse foliage that is supposed to be a rich dark green color. That lime-green, yellow-y foliage is a sign of stress due to too much water, poor drainage and wet feet. Root-rot caused from too much water often results in leaf drop and foliage turning yellow-ish. Folks often think more water is the answer and from there the situation just gets worse.
I had a meeting with a Property Manager yesterday. We were discussing a design project for a large HOA. The water has been turned off on a long stretch of street-side plantings for a few weeks now. This makes her very nervous. I had walked the site that same morning and assured her everything looked just fine. But it made her nervous. Not because there is anything wrong with those plants, but because Southern California has a culture of watering the heck out of everything. The go-to solution too often is: put more water on it! As I continue to say: that is not a solution – it is the PROBLEM.
Consider this please: Wilting caused by drought stress, is a matter of hydraulics. Simply put, that’s it. Plants have vascular systems. When the moisture is gone from this vascular system, the plant can no longer stand fully erect and tends to droop. That’s all it is. I am not saying turn off the water and walk away. Not at all. And don’t try this with new plants that are not yet established. But, I am saying, turn off the water and keep your eye on things on a daily basis. Look for signs of droopy foliage and at that first sign, then turn on the water. You may find that it takes days, or weeks before any signs of stress begin to appear. Especially when the materials are things like Privet, Photinia, Pittosporum and other tough shrubs. I push my roses way beyond what most people believe they can handle also.
Here is an example. I’ve been doing a lot of planting lately. Last week end I put in some artichokes and put off hooking up the drip emitters. Then I forgot about these guys because there is a lot of other stuff in the garden that has my attention at the moment. I went out this morning and this is what I found: