Summer is a time when you want lots of color in your garden, but you don't want to work at it. You need plants that bloom when it's stinking hot that fool your neighbors into thinking you're a much more active gardener than you really are. These five shrubs are your ticket to a summer of glorious lethargy. Let the deceit begin!
Summer Bloomer #1 (above) -- Glossy Abelia You'd think handsome foliage and pretty, nonstop blooms from spring to fall would make glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) a garden mainstay. You'd be wrong. It's nearly forgotten and deserves better -- especially the newer, compact selections like 'Rose Creek,' 'Little Richard,' and 'John Creech' that form tidy, dense mounds from 2-4 feet tall and wide. Clusters of small, white or light pink flowers appear above the glossy foliage that is evergreen throughout much of the South. Butterflies love abelia; deer despise it. Grow it in sun and well-drained soil in USDA Zones 6-9.
Summer Bloomer #2 -- Plumleaf Azalea
Not all azaleas bloom in spring. A number of deciduous, native azaleas bloom in summer. Here's one of them, plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium), blooming on our Southern Living grounds this week. Plumleaf azalea slowly grows up to 10 feet tall. Bright orange or red blossoms bearing long stamens decorate its branches every July. Suited to Zones 6-8, it needs light shade, and fertile, moist, well-drained soil that contains lots of organic matter. Water during summer droughts.
Summer Bloomer #3 -- Oleander
Many folks associate oleander (Nerium oleander) with the beach, because it tolerates sandy soil, salt spray, heat, and drought. But this evergreen shrub grows well in regular, well-drained soil too and is more cold-hardy than you might think. Grumpy has a 30-year old plant growing in a pot in his Zone 8A garden that goes into the garage only when temps drop below 15 degrees. There are a zillion types of oleanders, growing from 4-20 feet tall. Single, semi-double, or double flowers -- sometimes fragrant -- come in red, pink, rose, salmon, yellow, and white. Cut off the old flowers to keep new ones coming. Grow oleander in full sun in Zones 8-10. North of there, grow it in a pot you can take indoors for the winter.
Summer Bloomer #4 -- Rose-of-Sharon (Althea)
Sometimes dismissed as an "old lady plant," rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is making a comeback, due to new types that offer better blooms over a longer period, more colors, and few or no seeds. (Few seeds means more flowers.) Flowers may be blue, purple, lavender, pink, red, or white. Plants typically grow 10-12 feet tall if unpruned. Among Grumpy's favorites: 'Ardens' (double lilac blooms), 'Diana' (large, pure white), 'Minerva' (ruffled lavender with red eye), and plants in the Chiffon and Satin series. Grow in sun and well-drained soil in Zones 5-10.
Summer Bloomer #5 -- 'Limelight' Hydrangea
Well, lookee what Grumpy discovered blooming in his own front yard today. Only the best, easiest hydrangea you can grow -- 'Limelight' (Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'). Unlike many other waterhog hydrangeas that toast in the sun, this ones takes drought and likes full sun. And it blooms on new growth, so cold winters don't kill flower buds. Growing 6-10 feet tall and wide, it boasts large flower clusters that emerge greenish-white, change to pure white, before finishing a rosy color. In fall, its leaves turn a nice yellow. Grow it in full sun and well-drained soil in Zones 3-9.