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Pick right flowers for hot spots

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. Do you have any suggestions as to what to do with Indian hawthornes this year? Mine and many of my neighbors’ look dried and sad. Some have a little new growth on them. Can they be cut back and flourish? Everyone I have talked to said they are responding to the colder-than-usual winter. Should I dig them up and plant new ones?

    A. The same is true of some gardenias and oleanders, whose owners have described similar problems to me. I doubt if this is a fatal event. You can cut them back, making sure the wood is still green, and wait for them to leaf out again. Or you can wait a couple of weeks and see how the new growth develops. They are pretty tough plants. If you still have to cut them back after mid-May, that would be OK because they have a long summer of growth ahead.

The temperature has already hit 85 (and that was not long after it was freezing). So here we are, probably facing another long, hot summer. I am hopeful that there will be rain to help us out and mitigate the heat.

But even with rain, it is important to select plants for flower beds that will hold up through the inevitable heat. Fortunately, many good choices are in garden centers, including some of the most popular and beautiful.

These plants – including bedding begonias, cannas, gazania, lantana, zinnias and cosmos – all possess the strength and stamina to carry them through the summer. You may have seen cannas growing in the medians of interstate highways. Surely that is a test of strength.

Most of these hot-weather beauties originated in very hot regions of the world, where tolerance of heat was important for survival and reproduction of the species.

The roots of cannas are hardy, as are those of some lantanas, the best-known being Miss Huff. But most of these plants do not survive our typical winter. They make up for that with a long season of bloom through the warmest months.

Three popular choices lead my list in this category.

Begonias: The bedding begonias, sometimes called wax or fibrous-rooted begonias, are great for light shade and will bloom nonstop from the time you buy them as small plants until you replace them with pansies in mid to late autumn. The color choices are outstanding, from vivid reds through many shades of pink to white. Some have simple but still beautiful small flowers; others produce exquisite double blooms shaped like tiny roses. If you must have begonias in a sunny spot, look for varieties with bronze foliage instead of green. Even in sun, these plants tolerate heat well.

Lantana: This is a superior flowering plant with excellent tolerance of heat. It comes in many beautiful bright or pastel colors. Some lantanas sprawl; others create a graceful mound. Lantanas are good in flower beds and containers. It is tempting to think of the sprawling types as ground covers, but that is not how most people use lantanas here.

Zinnias: This is one you can grow from seeds planted in May, and the choices of color, heights and shape are outstanding. All are round with petals arranged around a center, as with any other member of the daisy family. Some zinnias have just one or two rows of petals, while others are fully packed with layers and layers of petals. These are plants for full sun; you can’t get away with light shade. The effect is wonderful, especially if you choose the rich, vibrant colors of summer – orange, red, purple and deep pink. I think mixing the colors is most effective. When you look at seed envelopes, pay attention to the mature height stated on the back. Some are a foot or so tall; others soar to 2 to 3 feet. This can govern placement in the flower bed.

While these are all tolerant of high summer heat, they benefit from getting in the ground in early to mid-May, where the roots can grow and get well-established and comfy before the heat hits. And we know it will.


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