Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
July, 2005
Regional Report

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Gaillardia or blanket flower is a cheerful addition to the summer flower garden.

Sunlovers for Dry Spots

The landscape roses, daylily, purple coneflower, rudbeckia, coreopsis, and tall border phlox are sun-loving mainstays of the summer perennial garden. These all do well with at least a half a day of direct sun and in average (or better) garden soil. They bloom best with adequate moisture but will tolerate a dry spell and continue to bloom for you, although perhaps a bit diminished.

What about those hot, sunny spots where heat and dry soil are unavoidably combined? I'm thinking of the tough-to-plant locations such as a bed with a western exposure between the garage and the walk, with heat reflecting off both the building and the pavement. This is baking hot and as a result usually quite dry as well.

Prickly pear cactus would probably do quite well in that type of growing location. But I do not recommend planting it because the spines are quite painful; I know this because I absentmindedly brushed against one with my ankle and the chubby back of my leg. It was painful enough that I felt compelled to remove the plant and put it in the trashcan later that same day.

Since then I've had better luck with purple coneflowers in hot spots like that, along with the late summer-blooming -- and very heat- and drought-tolerant -- sedums. Spring bulbs seem happy there, too, because they bask in the dry soil all summer. The bearded iris, along with baptisia and sea pink or thrift, do well and add early-season flowers to the display. More summer-bloomers to consider are gaillardia, a native sometimes known as blanket flower, and achillea, commonly called yarrow. These both laugh at heat and sun and actually prefer well-drained soil. (In a damp location they will not survive the winter.) Artemesias are also a natural for a hot, dry, and well-drained, sunny location, but they tend to falter by mid summer due to our high humidity -- especially in a location with poor air circulation.

If you prefer something that is low to the ground and very easy to grow as a groundcover, consider the assorted varieties of thyme. And if edible herb gardening appeals to you, you might add oregano and sage as well. All of these plants like sun and a well drained soil -- even a sandy soil will do.

If you think you would like to experiment with some of these for your own problem spot, I would suggest doing your planning now but wait until the end of August to plant. By then we will be beyond the worst of the season's heat, and the dry spells of summer should give way to the normally rainier fall, and this seasonal change provides your plants far more favorable growing conditions during their establishment period. You could take a few quick snapshots now to help you remember where you think you need more color, or what looks best (and worst) as the summer progresses.

Besides, it's much more fun to sit in the shade sipping lemonade on a sultry ninety-degree summer afternoon, sorting through photos and dreaming about gardening, than to actually be out there working hard and digging in the dirt!

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