It’s Hot! It’s Humid! It’s Summer in the South

Rosemary, an herb with Mediterranean heritage, does very well in our north central Alabama climate if it has sharp drainage and a spot with good air flow.

What do our plants “think” about this weather? Are they looking a little limp? Edging toward the door when it opens and cool comes spilling out? Or do they seem to bask in our conditions, looking more lush and sultry with each day of excess temperatures and sauna-like conditions?

Much like humans, plants (and animals) have preferences when it comes to living conditions. And like it or not, some humans, plants, and animals don’t adapt well to conditions other than the ones they “grew up in” and therefore favor.

Are you a heat lover? The thought of cold weather makes you cringe? Or handling heat is do-able but humidity turns you into a lethargic blob able only to move in an air-conditioned environment?

Plants face similar challenges, particularly when we choose and install them on the basis of looks alone! Although most plants native to this area and many non-native species do very well, there are some varieties that struggle in our hot and humid conditions.

Take herbs as example. Many of the ones we grow as ornamentals or for culinary use come from climates ranging from cool temperate Europe to warm Mediterranean. However, few of them are subtropical in origin, creating less than ideal growing conditions (high heat plus high humidity) for many species.

Therefore, plants whose ancestors adapted to dry environments are not going to fare as well as those that struggled with and adapted to higher humidity.

Even then, there are exceptions and plants don’t read the rule books. Rosemary, an herb with Mediterranean heritage, does very well in our north central AL climate IF it has sharp drainage and a spot with good air flow. Conversely, if growing lavender, which has a similar background, we are lucky if the plant lasts 3 years as it is much more susceptible to our summer humidity.

Drip tip on a Pothos leaf. Photo courtesy of Viette’s Views

Some plants tolerant of high humidity levels have adapted their leaves to allow excess water to roll off which keeps excess moisture from sitting on leaves for extended periods of time. These pointed ends, called “drip tips”, aren’t always present on high-humidity tolerant plants, but if we become aware of this feature, will find it on a large number of native and naturalized species in this region.

Many fuzzy-leaved and grey-leafed plants also fall in the category of plants that don’t normally thrive in our hot and humid summers.

Is the answer to grow lots of orchids? Not necessarily although we may find a new niche for them in our gardens and patio areas.

Gardening is always balance and challenge. As our climate experiences shifts in rainfall and temperature, our gardens can be modified and adapted to those changes. And bear in mind, change is inevitable in our landscapes, whether welcomed or not.

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at leesall@aces.edu.


The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

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