By Susan Albert
Summers in the South Central region can be downright brutal. From the heat and humidity in Oklahoma to the blazing sun in Texas, gardeners have to stock hearty plants that can withstand high temperatures and still provide cool color.
Some plants tend to stop production during the hottest part of the year, then resume flowering when the weather cools a bit. I notice that with certain salvias. However the perennial autumn sage (Salvia greggii) blooms from spring till frost, and most heavily in late summer to fall.
Here are more perennials and annuals that thrive when the sun starts scorching:
• Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a native that blooms on sturdy stems for a long period during the heat of summer. Deadheading extends the season even more, unless you’re leaving the seed heads for the goldfinches. Plant perennial purple coneflower in fertile, well-drained soil in full to part sun.
• Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which also is native to our area, forms a bright- orange spot in the landscape that blooms off and on but profusely all summer. The heat is no match for the perennial, which attracts scores of butterflies to its nectar. Incidentally butterfly weed doesn’t have the milky sap usually associated with milkweeds, but it still is a host plant for the monarch butterfly. Plant it in full sun in dry or gravelly soil with moderate to light moisture.
• Cannas (Canna x generalis) in tall or dwarf forms bring a hot, tropical flair to the garden. Plant them in sun to part sun in a well-drained site or in a container. Cut off the spent blooms to keep more coming. They prefer ample water and fertility. In most of the South Central region, cannas can be left in the ground. In Zone 6b it’s iffy, so you may want to dig them up and store them over winter.
• Liatris varieties bloom at different times during the summer, so you can start off with the midsummer-blooming blazing star (L. spicata ‘Kobold’), with its tall, fuzzy spikes, and continue into late summer with Eastern blazing star (L. scariosa) that sports pompomlike blooms. Plant them in well-drained soil in a sunny location.
• Helenium (Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’) is a favorite in my yard for its daisylike yellow blooms splashed with red and mahogany, and center discs that remind me of ornate buttons. A perennial, it blooms from early to late summer and prefers moderate to moist soil in full sun.
• Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) is a fragrant, colorful perennial shrub with flowering spikes on arching stems that bloom from early summer till frost. I have five of them in my yard -- white, lavender, and ruby -- because I like butterflies, and butterflies like buddleia. Plant them in well-drained soil in full sun. Cut them almost to the ground in spring, as buddleia blooms on new growth.
• Firebush (Hamelia patens) is a heat-tolerant, easy-care Texas favorite that blooms summer to frost. The tubular orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun.
• Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), when established early, flowers continuously during hot weather -- the hotter, the better -- and also withstands some drought. Colorful cultivars, in white, red, pink, rose, or purple, come in upright or creeping styles. The annual prefers well-drained soil with moderate water.
• Zinnia hybrids, such as the Profusion and Zahara series bedding plants, offer nonstop annual color from summer to fall and thrive in heat and humidity. Hot colors in pink, orange, white, and yellow need no deadheading. Plant them in full sun in well-drained soil.
• Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) is an underused annual that simply defies the heat. Its round, papery flowers bloom profusely all summer. The heat can’t wilt them because they already look like a dried arrangement! Colors vary in shades of white, pink, lavender, red, and purple. Plant in full sun to get the most blooms.
A small shrub to tree size, many cultivars of crape myrtle put on eye-catching shows beginning in midsummer and continuing through the hottest part of the season. I can’t say enough about crape myrtles: They are heat and drought tolerant and offer a wide variety of color choices. No yard should be without one -- or two.
The summer is heating up; plant away!
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