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6 flowers that stand up to our punishing North Carolina summers

Besides adding hot-weather color, lantana plants also attract butterflies.
Besides adding hot-weather color, lantana plants also attract butterflies. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The surprising stretch of recent cool weather has distracted some of us from the truth that hot weather will be here faster than ice cubes melt in July. And, if recent summers are any indication, this one will be really hot and really long.

I thought blazing summer heat would never end last year, but it did, finally, about mid-September. It was just another in a line of summers that tested the merit of many flowers for their staying power and good looks through difficult weather.

So, even though spring is still with us, it’s time to think about summer, especially when choosing plants for flower beds in sunny spots.

Fortunately, a lot of very good plants perform well in spots of direct afternoon sun, but careful choice is essential.

Lantana: For a long time, lantana has been a top choice for these hot spots, but today’s lantana offers many options. There are trailing types suited for pots and hanging baskets and upright ones that go well in both containers and beds. They come in a much wider range of colors than we saw a decade or so ago, including vivid and pastel flowers.

Zinnias: Zinnias, too, love hot, sunny positions, and grow in a range of heights that make them suited for edging or background plants. Zinnias are sold widely as bedding plants but they are also quite easy to grow from seeds sown in warm soil.

Pentas and angelonia: As with lantana, most people will grow many of their hot-spot plants from young plants purchased in garden centers. Pentas and angelonia are two excellent choices where a vertical plant is desired behind a shorter, more horizontal plant such as portulaca or Madagascar periwinkle.

Portulaca and periwinkle: Both portulaca and the periwinkle make good choices for gardeners who don’t wish to do a lot of watering. And both come in lovely colors that appeal to many tastes. Large pots also suit them for a summer home. I thought both performed admirably in the past few summers, still looking fresh and pretty even after growing in the hot sun.

Bright yellows: If you are keen to grow bright yellow flowers, good choices exist also. These include melampodium, a relative of sunflowers, but shorter; and plumed celosia, which comes in pink and orange in addition to yellow. These are also fairly tolerant of drought and produce a long season of bloom – and look especially good in beds with zinnias. Celosia, like zinnias, benefit from removal of spent flowers, but there are usually cooler moments when this can be done.

For shady spots: While shade usually seems cooler, it can still be quite hot. That makes impatiens, begonias and torenia good choices. Torenia, also called wishbone flower, will bring lovely tones of blue and violet into a shade garden that could be dominated by the reds and pinks of impatiens and begonias. Torenia also makes an excellent pot plant and also comes in other colors such as rose pink and white.

Altogether there are many choices for your hot spots, which makes the expectation of a long, hot summer easier to contemplate.

Ask Nancy

Q: I delayed planting my herbs last month but now want to get them all in. I trust it is not too late?

A: Not too late at all. The air and soil are getting warm and many kinds of herbs should thrive when planted in containers or beds now.

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