It seems as if the summer has been unusually hot this year and not only on people: The garden has been taking it on the chin as well.
With the hot temperatures and dry breezes, it’s been difficult to keep things wet, much less looking well. However, part of the success of a summer garden is knowing which plants to choose in spring that will not only survive the hot, dry Southwest summers, but also will thrive.
There are actually many plants that thrive in the heat here. The problem is that each spring when people come to the garden center to choose their flowers, these heat lovers haven’t begun to put on their show yet because it hasn’t gotten that hot, and so they are usually overlooked.
One of my very favorites is flowering vinca. This sturdy little plant is Colorado-tough, and I’ve used it for years in my garden because it also seems to be kid- and dog-proof. It comes in white, pink or a rosy red color. Staying short at about 6-10 inches, it makes a great border or bedding plant with small, pretty flowers and attractive, dark green foliage.
Purslane, or portulaca, is another favorite. This small succulent boasts bright red, orange, yellow or pink flowers and can take the toughest conditions here. Because it is a succulent, it will store water and use that to get through the day as the soil dries out. It’s a great choice if you work away from home or can’t always get to water if we have a particularly hot day.
I love lantana as well. This old-fashioned bloomer is usually seen in yellow or orange or a variety of a mixture of those colors. Even though this plant looks as if it wouldn’t hold up to the heat because of its dark green foliage and delicate flowers, it’s a great choice as a bedding plant or in a basket. Once it is established, you also get the bonus of it being drought-tolerant and a bit forgiving should you forget to water!
Petunias are the “little black dress” of a Colorado garden and are also heat lovers. Keep them watered and help them along by adding a layer of mulch to help retain that moisture and keep their roots a little cooler, and you’ll have petunias that will put on quite a show throughout the summer months.
Dusty Miller, cosmos, salvia, marigolds and zinnias are other good choices for annuals that love the sun, heat and will thrive in our dry climate. These plants will need a little more water and attention than some of the others, but with the proper care, they will do quite well throughout the summer.
Although perennials aren’t often thought of in the same context as the annuals, many of them will also do quite well during the heat of the summer. Penstemon, or beardtongue, is native to the western U.S. and sports tall spikes of colorful flowers. There are many varieties available, and penstemons are prized for their ability to adapt and thrive in our poor soils. Attractive to hummingbirds, this prairie native is low-maintenance.
Ice plants are another of my hot-weather favorites. This tiny little plant is great for rock gardens, beds, even banks where it’s difficult to get other plants to grow. This one is again in the succulent family and comes in a variety of colors ranging from yellow to red and variegated. Ice plants are wonderful for our area and make a colorful addition to any perennial or rock garden.
If you’ve never tried daylilies, you don’t know what you’re missing. Stella d’Oro is one of my personal favorites, but there are many, many daylilies from which to choose, and they range in color from bright, clear yellow, to deep, dark red, including pastels and bold variegations. Many are rebloomers, which means they will bloom throughout the summer, not just at a certain time as many perennials do. In addition, they thrive here in our climate.
Coreopsis or tickseed, and rudbeckias or black-eyed Susans, are another favorite of mine for the hot summer months. I tend to lump them together because they have similar habits of growing about the same height of between 18” - 3’ and they grow in a similar bushy form. The coreopsis generally is seen in yellow or a variety of variegations including yellow and orange. Black eyed susans are yellow with that pretty, dark center. In my yard, I have them planted on the south side in full sun all day and they grow well.
Daisies are an old fashioned favorite and another plant that loves the heat. I have several clumps of daisies in different varieties planted in my yard and I love their bright white color because it adds a cool feel to the hot, sunny southern side of my house. Although usually thought of in white, daisies or leucanthemum also come in shades of cream and yellow.
If it’s time to replace your spring plants, like pansies, then consider some of these choices. No matter what you choose, help them along by keeping them well watered and consider adding a layer of mulch once you have planted them. The mulch will not only help them to retain water, but will also help to keep the roots a little cooler until they’ve established themselves. And if you have containers or potted plants that are showing the signs of heat stress, move them to a shady or more protected spot if you can.
Beat the heat by spending time in the garden during the evening hours if possible when the temperatures are much more enjoyable but water in the morning when possible. With monsoon season right around the corner, relief from the heat is in sight!
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at email@example.com.