Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
June, 2001
Regional Report

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Summer flowers such as cosmos can add a splash of color to the garden.

Colorful Summer Flowers

Our sizzling summer temperatures can dampen any gardener's enthusiasm, but by planting flowers that create a splash of color, you can invigorate yourself along with the garden. Perhaps surprisingly, many flowers can withstand the summer heat and provide a lengthy bloom cycle.

What to Plant

Some warm-season summer annuals that can take our heat and sun include sunflower, zinnia, cosmos, gaillardia, petunia, salvia, vinca, tithonia, black-eyed Susan, portulaca, celosia, globe amaranth, verbena, four-o'clock, and lisianthus. Perennials include yarrow, angelita daisy, coreopsis, and catmint.

Soil Preparation

To get the best blooms, start with healthy, fertile soil to help your flowers grow through the heat. Incorporate a generous layer of compost into your flower bed. I prefer a 4- to 6-inch layer dug to a depth of 12 to 18 inches. This may seem like a lot of compost, but the organic matter will aerate the soil, allow roots to penetrate easily, and improve water retention.

Keep Them Fed

As you're mixing in the compost, add fertilizer. Desert soils contain plenty of potassium but often lack nitrogen and phosphorus. Fish emulsion and bone meal are good organic sources of these nutrients. Another source is ammonium phosphate (16-20-0). Fertilizer can be added at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet.

Planting, Mulching, and Watering

Sow seeds, or use transplants, and keep soil consistently moist until roots are establish. A 3-inch layer of mulch around flowers will help retain soil moisture and reduce soil temperatures. Mulch also helps keep weeds at bay. Apply water to the soil slowly and deeply. Don't sprinkle water onto the foliage from above. Wet foliage promotes the spread of fungal diseases. In our extreme heat it can also cause burns on the foliage, as it quickly evaporates and leaves behind salt residue on the leaves.


Snip off all spent blossoms. Deadheading promotes continual flowering, as the plant expends its energy to produce more blooms instead of seeds. To deadhead, clip off just the bloom or cut the whole stem for a tidier look.

Make Bouquets

Summer flowers allow you to bring the beauty of your garden indoors. Many plants provide great-looking cut flowers. Snip some interesting foliage from plants such as artemesia, sage, or asparagus to fill out the bouquet.

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