For those of us who adore gardening and can't wait to get our hands in the dirt every spring, at the first signs of warmer weather we rush to the local nursery to load up on beautiful flowers and fragrant herbs to plant. If you don’t have a good plan, however, you may get home with a carload of plants that are either hard to maintain or do not perform well when the temperature starts to soar. As mild and comfortable as spring can be, we know that a Southern summer can become unbearable, and any living thing that isn’t protected by shade is under threat of getting baked. If you want your colorful garden to perform well in the heat of the summer, do your homework now before you head to the nursery. Look for plants that can hold their own in the heat, humidity, and even drought situations. Every plant needs care – fertilizing, weeding, and watering – but these six gardeners’ favorites are very low-maintenance and can stand up well to our summer conditions.
This heat-loving beauty can also stand up to a drought situation rather well. You will enjoy the show of nonstop flowers that appear throughout the hot months of summer. Lantana requires plenty of sun and good drainage. Plus, lantanas are buttefly magnets—no flowers do a better job of attracting them. You can choose a spreading lantana, such as Gold Mound, which is ideal for spilling over walls or along the edges of steps.
This is one of the garden’s most colorful, useful, and easy-to-grow plants. They bloom in late spring, thrive in heat, tolerate drought, and attract butterflies. Low verbenas make good ground covers, hanging basket plants, while the taller varieties are good in borders. Verbena dislikes continually wet conditions, so provide good air circulation and well-drained soil.
Dusty Miller With its silvery gray foliage, dusty miller makes a striking partner with the more colorful plants in the garden. This plant is quite drought tolerant, although you will need to water the young plants regularly to help them get established. Dusty miller prefers well-drained soil; if you have clay soil, mix some sand into your planting beds. Keep plants producing new foliage by removing yellow flowers in the early summer, and trim leggy plants in late summer to enjoy renewed growth until frost. Most selections grow 6 to 12 inches tall.
Tiny daisy-faced flowers crowd together on each billowing plant, blooming nonstop right through the summer. Unlike other zinnias that stand up straight, narrow-leaf zinnias form mounding cushions of flowers, making this a perfect plant for borders and containers. Full sun and dry soil are all it takes to produce show-stopping color. What could be easier?
The beautiful blossoms on the globe amaranth look like cover flowers dipped in Easter egg dye. The rounded flowers range in color from white, pale pin, and lavender to bright magenta, red, and orange. Globe amaranth can be planted in full sun, water young plants frequently for the first few weeks, then let rainfall do the rest. Selections vary in size from 8 to 30 inches tall.
This plant is so cooperative all you have to do is purchase seed packets in order to grow eye-catching flowers. Scatter seeds in mid-spring on loosened soil in a sunny, well-drained spot; you don’t even need to cover them up. In a month or so, you will have blooms to enjoy throughout the summer. Cosmos is not a high maintenance plant; in fact, too much fertilizer can produce more foliage and less flowers. You can choose from a wide selection of colors including white, yellow, orange, red, and any shade of pink you can imagine. Plant sizes range from 2 to 5 feet, so read the description of the seed packet. Choose cosmos sulphureus for best heat tolerance.
What grows well in the Coastal South may not perform in the Upper South. Always check your gardening zones for the best plants for your area.