Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
August, 2011
Regional Report

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Pride of Barbados is a butterfly magnet that lights up the landscape in the sizzling hot days of summer.

Seven Sizzling Flowers for the Summer Sun

These past weeks have been brutally hot, with days pushing triple digits and nights dropping barely below a sultry 80 degrees. As a result, our outdoor gardening is primarily an early morning and pre-dusk activity.

Looking through a window at my landscape from the air-conditioned interior of my home or driving about town safely enclosed in my air-conditioned car, I am amazed that some plants not only survive but even thrive in these sizzling summer conditions.

Thus I am reminded again of the importance of planning a landscape with the four seasons in mind. We can grow almost anything in spring. There are some plants that provide winter interest. Others do their thing in the fall. Ah, but then there is summer!

Thank goodness for the summer superstars that not only survive but thrive despite the heat and humidity. If you are looking out at a parched, tawny landscape or perhaps just a sea of green, here are seven great choices for adding color during the summer season.

Plumbago is a surprisingly tough plant. I have seen it survive over a month without rain or irrigation in the heat of summer and then quickly resume growth and bloom production again when provided some rain or irrigation. It does best in partial shade but can take full sun if provided moderate soil moisture. Bearing sky blue flowers, it is among the few blue-blooming options for summer. A white flowered form is also available.

Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), also known as red bird of paradise, provides one of the most striking accents of our summer landscapes. The plant's gorgeous and intriguing yellow and orange-red blooms arranged in multiple-flowered clusters that rise above an attractive 4-5 foot tall mound of foliage. Provide this butterfly attracting tender perennial full sun and good drainage. A yellow blooming type and a less common pink type are also available.

Yellow bells or esperanza thrives in our summer heat. Broad bloom spikes with clusters of bright yellow flowers are held above the deep green foliage from spring to fall. It will tolerate a little shade and is also fairly drought tolerant. Several cultivars bear flowers that are orange or yellow streaked with orange. This is among the most dependable choices for summer blooms.

Rose mallow or hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) commands attention with dinner plate-sized blooms in red, pink, white, and white with a pink blush. Some cultivars reach only two feet tall while others grow to 5 feet or more. Scarlet rose mallow or Texas star (Hibiscus coccineus) is a southern native with narrow red petals for a unique effect. Provide hibiscus full sun, dependable soil moisture, and good drainage for best results.

Firecracker plant or cigar flower (Cuphea ignea) gets its name from the profusion of red-orange narrow tubular blooms that are about an inch and a quarter in length. Give it full sun and dependable soil moisture, then sit back and wait for the hummingbirds and butterflies to discover it! The plants grow to just under 3 feet in height and width. They are tender perennials in most parts of the Lower South.

Firebush (Hamelia patens) is an aptly named plant. While it won't tolerate drought, it can take the heat. The red tubular blooms attract hummingbirds and butterflies, and when cooler temperatures return, the green foliage is tinged with an attractive red accent. Firebush can take some shade but provides its best color in full sun.

Thryallis (Galphimia glauca) is one of my favorite landscape plants. It reaches 5 to 6 feet tall and is one of the few things not preferred by deer in our area. Clusters of small yellow blooms appear in summer and continue through fall as long as the weather is frost free. When in full bloom the plant is literally covered with the attractive yellow bloom clusters. The plants are quite drought tolerant once established but bloom best with moderate soil moisture.

There are a number of other great summer blooming plants including several shrubs, a number of salvias, and some bedding plants too. Let me know some of your favorites to add to this list!

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