Hot Gardens Newsletter: July 2004
Six plants that bloom in scorching hot summer weather
As summer heat builds, many desert garden plants hunker down, shut off their flowers and most growth, and just try to survive so your garden is probably looking a little dull at this time of year. There are, however, 6 to plant in a simple combination for prolonged blooming color in even the hottest months.
Better yet, these plants can look good together in a border and need virtually no attention during the hot summer months. With one exception, they need very little water, no pruning, no fertilizer.
1. The first is Lantana (Lantana montevidensis) planted at the front of a bed as ground cover. The gold-blossom lantana, a South American native, is truly an industrial-strength plant which blooms brilliantly for months on end. (Be sure you plant low-growing L. montevidensis, not L. camara which is a tall shrub.)
You may also want to mix it up by adding purple, lavender, yellow, orange and red Lantana. And vigorous really describes Lantana if it likes where it is planted. You may have to cut it back drastically once a year in mid-winter. Lantana is also an excellent plant for lawn replacement.
2. Next, pink dwarf Nerium oleander. Like all oleanders this hybrid will withstand tough treatment–utter neglect, smog, dust storms, being run over by trucks – you name it! The dwarf pink Oleander grows to about three to four feet tall and blooms in a lovely delicate pink. There are also red and salmon color dwarf varieties but their flowering season is shorter. If you plan to put this plant in a flower border, be sure to purchase the dwarf variety. Regular Oleander becomes a very tall shrub suitable for a hedge or barrier.
3. If you do not want the visual solidity of oleander, consider planting rose bushes. Roses give an open, airy feeling to a border. The white blooms provide a soothing visual accent to this bright color border; yellow roses continue the color brilliance.
Roses need a lot of water in summer, which is obviously a problem in a desert climate, but we have a low water-usage alternative below.
4. For another taller layer near the back of your border plant the official shrub of Texas, the Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). While you may think of it as a tree, it does not grow very tall in desert areas. In fact, it naturally grows as a multi-trunk shrub. The hot pink Crape Myrtle shown here is a “standard”–that is, it has been trained to grow with a single trunk, like a tree. As a shrub it can be dazzling with brilliant hot pink flowers blooming from the ground up.
5. One more addition: annual yellow sunflowers. The sunflowers are an excellent color balance for the Lantana — but at a different height. We prefer the smaller, multi-stem sunflowers to the gigantic ones. Wild birds, however, love them both for the seeds.
(Call this one 5 and a half.) Another annual plant that could fit into this color scheme: yellow-petaled Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia). It will grow anywhere even in the hottest weather.
6. And to make it six: The Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia Pulcherima) is a flowering shrub with an open structure that could be a more drought-tolerant substitute for the roses. While we show the version with orange blossoms, there is one variety that has yellow blooms.
Keep in mind. All Oleander is poisonous — leaves, stems, flowers. Lantana leaves have a mildly keroseney scent, but that does not seem to bother the bees and butterflies. The roses, of course, are the exception to low water usage. Crape Myrtles really prefer acidic soil, so be sure to add a lot of organic amendments and you will have glorious color all summer long!
Jarring News. If you want to add color right now instead of planting a border for next year, consider placing several large colorful pots in your garden. You can see an excellent example of using large tall pots and brightly colored furniture to add color to a basically green garden on the Private Garden page. Yes, we know large glazed pots are expensive, but keep in mind they are permanent color and you never have to water, fertilize or trim them! And you know exactly how large they are going to be this year, next year and forever!
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