Last summer, the heat set in early and stayed late in the Piedmont. It was brutal. Hard on people. Hard on plants.
Yet some flower gardens thrived, thanks to careful planting and selection of plants that stand up well to long stretches of hot days and nights.
Now that we’re beginning to plant our summer flower beds, it’s good to get to know some of these stalwarts of the garden. Most originated in tropical climates and are remarkably well-adapted to life in the heat of summer.
Here are just 10 of the best for the hot summer ahead that can be planted in coming days and weeks.
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1. Lantana. Lantana offers many color choices, and the vibrant tones of red, orange and pink are especially beautiful. Some lantanas are more upright and mounding, making them well-suited for flower beds. Other kinds spread, perfect for spilling out of hanging baskets or trailing from large pots or window boxes. It gets high marks for a long season of bright blooms.
2. Zinnias. Tall or short, upright or spreading, zinnias bring a wealth of choices in color and style. Most can be grown from seeds sown in warm soil or in small pots for transplanting into the garden in May. But they are also sold in bloom as young bedding plants. Blooming of most zinnias is prolonged by removal of spent flowers, and plants stay healthier with careful watering early in the day so that foliage dries off quickly.
3. Portulaca. A semi-succulent garden flower that really tolerates dry weather, portulacas are used widely in hanging baskets and pots, which they seem made to inhabit. But they also make good edging plants in flower beds. The flowers come in a wealth of rich, vibrant colors; the bright pinks and reds stand out beautifully. Most gardeners buy young plants.
4. Pentas. These elegant flowers of pink, red, white and purple appear on vertical plants of varying heights from short to as tall as several feet, depending on the variety. The long-lasting flowers are clusters of star-shaped blooms backed up by medium green leaves. It makes a very pretty sight in flower beds or large pots.
5. Madagascar periwinkle. Also called vinca, this useful plant is a consistent bloomer through the hot months. The flat flowers, typically white with a red center or all pink or red. Plants are well-suited for the front of sunny flower beds, where they grow 12 to 24 inches tall, depending on the variety. Water lightly. Overwatering tends to cause rots and blights of the stems and roots.
6. Angelonia. Fairly new to the garden marketplace, elegant angelonia has a long bloom season in hot weather. The flowers are white, pink and tones of purple. Plants grow vertically but have a bushy effect, with many stems rising 12 to 18 inches, suitable for just behind edging plants. The blooms and shape remind some people of snapdragons, except they bloom much longer. They tolerate drought but benefit from regular watering.
7. Melampodium. This relative of sunflowers is a rugged, all-summer plant. Unlike true sunflowers, it grows much shorter. Popular varieties such as Showstar and Million Gold rise about 18 inches and bear bright yellow flowers shaped like daisies. They tolerate drought. White forms also exist.
8. Torenia. Even part shade can prove very hot for plants, and torenia will bloom well in this environment or even in shadier situations. Often called the wishbone flower, it will also bring blue and violet to the garden as well as pink, yellow, rose and white. Torenia stays short, about 12 inches, and looks good as an edging or in a large pot.
9. Mexican sunflower. When you need a tall plant for the back of your flower garden, this makes a nice alternative to annual sunflowers. The daisy-shaped blooms are bright orange or red with yellow centers. Growth is robust in warm weather. Staking may be necessary on plants that can reach 6 feet.
10. Plumed celosia. The plumed form with feathery blooms of bright colors such as red, yellow, pink and orange makes a nice contrast to other summer flowers shaped like round daisies, such as zinnias. Rising about 24 inches, celosias produce flower heads that are 4-10 inches long. They also make good cut flowers.
Nancy Brachey: firstname.lastname@example.org