In the Garden:
Lower South
June, 2010
Regional Report

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Madagascar Periwinkle thrives in the summer heat, providing color in landscape beds and containers.

Flowers for the Southern Summer Honor Roll

When summer temperatures soar into the triple digits, many plants that were enthusiastic bloomers in spring begin to fall by the wayside under the onslaught of the summer sun. Many plants touted as heat tolerant in other parts of the country melt like an ice cube on asphalt!

Seed companies wanting to evaluate a plant for lower south summer conditions should set it into a pot of boiling water on the stove and then point an acetylene torch at the top. If it survives and blooms the next day, give us a call and we'll place an order! Okay, maybe that's a tiny exaggeration but you get the idea.

Despite this, there's no need to have to give up color for summer. We actually have quite a few great plants that take the heat and bloom well all through the summer months. Here are a few of my favorites for summer blooms. Check out my list and then let's hear from you about others that you think belong on the southern summer honor roll!

Narrowleaf Zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia) is a low growing, spreading cousin of our common garden zinnias. It looks great massed in a planting bed or spilling over the sides of a container, producing an abundance of 1" orange, yellow or white blooms that don't require deadheading to stay attractive. Narrowleaf zinnia is not bothered by powdery mildew and leaf spot diseases that attack its taller cousin.

Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), often referred to as vinca, is stunning when in bloom, with dark green leaves that set off the bright single blooms in shades of red, pink, lavender and white. Madagascar periwinkle thrives in hot weather and in poor soils as long as they are well drained. In addition to the standard, mounding plant form, there are now low-growing, trailing forms which work well spilling over the sides of a container or raised planter.

Lantana (Lantana camara) blooms in waves all summer long, forming multicolored mini-bouquets of tiny, trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of red, orange, yellow, cream, pink and lilac. 'New Gold' is an outstanding choice but is way overused considering all the other options on the market. Other great choices include 'Patriot Rainbow' (1'), 'Ann Marie' (18"), 'Irene' (3') and 'Miss Huff' (5'). Butterflies love 'Miss Huff' and many other lantana cultivars as well.

Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) produces clusters of light blue or white blooms all summer long and isn't bothered by pests and diseases. My daughter thinks the blooms of this plant make great ear jewelry. The individual blossoms pull loose with a sticky base that can be pressed against the earlobe for instant pizzazz!

Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans), also known as Esperanza and Yellow Elder, bears striking masses of golden yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers from spring to frost. My favorite cultivars are 'Gold Star' which begins blooming when still only a few feet tall, 'Orange Jubilee' (orange blooms) and 'Sunrise' (yellow with orange streaking).

Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), also known as Pride of Barbados, loves hot weather. Bright red-orange bloom spikes atop the plant command attention in the hot summer months. While it is able to withstand droughts, it will grow and bloom its best with occasional watering.

Salvia 'Mystic Spires' is a compact version of Salvia 'Indigo Spires' that also bears tall spikes of blue blooms all through the growing season. 'Mystic Spires' reaches only about 2 feet, with a more rigid, upright growth habit. This improvement, along with its season-long deep blue blooms, makes it an indispensable plant for our landscapes.


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