Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
July, 2009
Regional Report

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The blazing bright blooms of red bird of paradise provide summer long color to a sultry southern landscape.

Five Fireproof Flowers

This summer has been especially hot and dry in my garden. While weather patterns vary a bit around the Lower South, we all have to deal with some brutal summer heat and some fairly common summer drought spells.

Take a drive around your area in the summer and notice how most landscapes become a sea of green, or in my case this summer a sea of tawny! While the summer heat and stress does shut down many of our spring bloomin' beauties there are many other flowers that can take the heat and in fact even thrive in it.

Here are a few of my favorites for summer color in the Lower South. These plants love the heat but most do need moderate soil moisture to keep them blooming and productive. A good watering once or twice a week will be enough to keep them blooming up a storm.

Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
Red bird of paradise, also known as pride of Barbados, makes a stunning specimen plant in the landscape bearing bright red-orange bloom spikes. It provides a Southwestern look with a tropical flair that is especially nice near a pool or outdoor patio. It loves full sun. There are yellow and pink forms in the trade although they are not easy to find in some areas. It is marginally hardy in the Lower South so mulch the base deeply over winter.

Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos)
Few plants can match perennial hibiscus for summer beauty. These gaudy wonders have the largest flowers of any hardy perennial. They are descendants of the native hibiscus found throughout the Gulf South states. Few garden plants provide so much enjoyment for so little care. Mix in a few inches of compost prior to planting and keep the soil slightly moist. They like full sun but will tolerate light shade. There are many exciting new varieties such as 'Luna' which grows to just 2 to 3 feet tall. Then there is our great Southeastern native Hibiscus coccineus with its strappy red blooms and deeply cut foliage.

Thryallis (Galphimia glauca)
Thryallis blooms from late summer to fall in our climate with spikes of attractive yellow blooms that attract butterflies. It has no significant pest and disease problems, providing care-free beauty. While it blooms best in full sun it will tolerate a little shade. Plants make nice individual specimens or may be massed and sheared into a low hedge or planted in a large container.

Firecracker Plant or Cigar Flower (Cuphea ignea)
This plant's fiery, bright reddish orange, 1-inch tubular blooms are a magnet for hummingbirds and several types of butterflies. Give this cuphea lots of sun and moderate soil moisture for best results. When the first freeze burns the foliage back, cut the plants down to a couple of inches high and mulch it well to protect the base and roots over the winter season. The cultivar 'David Verity' is preferred by many gardeners for its dense habit and prolific blooms on 2 to 3 foot plants.

Salvia 'Indigo Spires' and 'Mystic Spires'
'Indigo Spires' is a vigorous performer that bears long blue spikes all through the growing season. It loves sun but tolerates a little shade. This salvia's primary drawback is its tendency to get floppy as it is a vigorous grower reaching 4 or more feet wide. 'Mystic Spires' is a more compact version of Indigo Spires, reaching only about 2 feet with a more rigid upright growth habit. This improvement along with its season-long blue blooms makes it an indispensable plant for our landscapes. It works well in garden beds or large containers.

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