TAKING ON THE HEAT

There are plenty of plants that can survive the Texas summertime

 

June 21, 2007

BY BARB HENRY - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER INTERN

EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON

 

Do you have plants in your garden that will hold up to our July and August heat? Now is the time to get them planted. Summer is upon us once more and soon our scorching hot Texas sun will sap the life from all but the most tolerant plant (or animal) left unprotected. Are you frustrated at not having plants that will survive in the hot spots of your garden?

 

After three decades absent from Texas summers, I sadly watched my new plants and shrubs wilt and shrivel the past two summers. Despite the heat, I noted that many of the gardens in Victoria remained green and vibrant with color. I needed help.

 

Inquiries led to my enrolling in the Victoria County Master Gardener Association training class last August, and the horticulture information floodgates opened.

 

I'd like to share some of what I have learned.

 

ACCENT PLANTS

 

The begonia is my choice for colorful accent in my garden. Although they look delicate, with fleshy stems that are easily broken, begonias can be very heat tolerant as long as they have a little shade. They do well with only the occasional soaking through the hot summer months and can be propagated from cuttings with selective pinching to encourage them to bush. They will winter well if mulched and protected from freezing. Begonias come in a great variety of foliage colors and shapes, and flowers are in shades from pure white through pinks to red. The large maroon-leafed, pink flowering Dragon Wing will tolerate full sun, if watered.

 

Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria) and Artemisia (often called Dusty Miller, also) are very attractive accent plants that add a soft silvery-white contrast in spots or in groups. With white, velvety lobed leaves, Dusty Miller complements my red begonias beautifully in two flowerbeds around the oak trees in my yard. It thrives in full sun to partial shade with little moisture. Artemisia has finer leaves and is not as dramatic as Dusty Miller, but is also popular for adding that silvery contrast.

 

VARIETY

 

Sun coleus and crotons provide multi color foliage and nicely accent other plants. Coleus comes in many variations of color and leaf shape and grows to various sizes. It is a member of the mint family and can be propagated from seed or cuttings.

 

Croton is a woody-stemmed shrub whose colors are most intense in full sun.

 

Salvias are summer's mainstays. There is a salvia (sage) to suit every taste in color, size and shape. Most of the salvias are heat and drought tolerant.

 

Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) or bachelor button has airy growth and bristly round clover-like flowers. It dries well for use in flower arrangements. The most common color is purplish red, but it comes in shades of pink to white also. It is a fair butterfly plant.

 

Moss rose (portulaca) and the popular purslane love full sun and heat. Although the flowers are only open during mid-day bright sun, they are spectacular, in shades of white, yellow, orange and red to magenta. They are perfect for edging, rock gardens, spilling out of containers, and in any hot, dry site.

 

Periwinkles (catharanthus roseus) are super drought tolerant and need almost no care at all. With masses of flat, five-petaled flowers in shades of white, pink or red, often with a darker eye in the middle, it re-seeds prolifically but hates wet feet and compact wet soil.

 

Firecracker fern has long, thin jointed leaves of bright green that arch or weep slightly that produce a striking sprinkling of small scarlet trumpet flowers. It loves full sun and is drought tolerant once established.

 

Pride of Barbados is a lacy bush with outstanding red, orange or yellow flowers and produces bean-like flat seedpods while still flowering. However, the seeds are toxic. It needs pruning only for shaping and can become quite a large shrub. Protect from freezing.

 

Varieties of hibiscus like Texas Star, Moy Grande, Flare and Lord Baltimore do well in full sun, with large showy blooms from summer to frost. These, unlike the Chinese hibiscus, are the winter hardy coming back from the roots each year after a freeze.

 

Don't overlook the many ornamental grasses being used in landscaping today. Also, the ornamental red chili plant is an eye-catching beauty that loves the heat, too.

 

The color red seems to dominate the flowers and foliage of the plants I've mentioned. Could that be because it is a favorite in my garden for the humming birds? There is, however, a whole color wheel of beautiful, tough plants out there. Something to suit every garden's hot spot and every gardener's taste.

 

VISIT VEG FOR IDEAS

 

A great way to make a decision is to see the plants in a natural setting. Visit the Victoria Educational Gardens, affectionately called VEG. There are two areas that should be especially helpful. One features Texas natives, and you will be able to see how the plant looks at this time of year. A label with name and general characteristics can be found for each type of plant. Another area is the xeriscape section. Xeriscape does not necessarily mean "dry," but the plants here have adapted to making do with the natural amounts of rain fall in the area. The master gardeners do not water this section. It survives on nature's provisions.

 

VEG is located on the grounds around the Officer's Club at 333 Bachelor Drive at Victoria Regional Airport. The gates are open from dawn to dusk every day. If you missed the grand opening of our new extension on June 10, plan to visit soon and see the addition of water features, meditation garden, military honor garden and more. One visit is not enough because VEG changes with additions and seasons.

 

The next master gardener training class starts Aug. 2. Look for more information in next week's article.

 

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

 

PLANTS FOR TEXAS HEAT

 

ALTHEA OR ROSE-OF-SHARON: attracts bees, has large flowers summer to fall, self-seeding

 

ARTEMISIA: Fine gray leaves, provides contrast in groupings

 

BEGONIA: Adaptable, large variety of color and size of leaf and flower

 

BLANKET FLOWERS: Indian Blankets, a well known native wild flower

 

BLUEBONNETS: Help perpetuate our state flower. It comes in Texas A&M maroon, too.

 

BLACK FOOT DAISY: Attracts butterflies, hates overhead water, white/yellow flowers in spring and summer

 

CANNAS: Many colors and varieties to choose from, cutting spent flowers promotes new leaves

 

CROTON: Waxy, multi-color foliage shrub, good in containers

 

DAISIES AND MUMS: A variety of colors with lasting flowers

 

DUMB CANE (DIEFFENBACHIA): Wide variegated leaves top thick stems, sap is very poisonous

 

DUSTY MILLER: Fuzzy silver/white leaves, little water, good background for colorful plants

 

ESPERANZA OR YELLOW BELLS: Clusters of showy blooms, even when plant is small

 

FIREBUSH: Attracts hummers, fiery flowers/foliage, needs water

 

FLOWERING QUINCE: Takes extremes, apple blossom like flower, no water, not showy in summer

 

HIBISCUS: Showy blooms, summer to frost

 

PORTULACA AND PURSLANE: Love hot, dry spots in full sun, have bright flowers

 

PURPLE CONEFLOWER (ECHINACEA PURPUREA): Water only if in dire need

 

RED YUCCA: Clumps of long straight leaves with coral spike, attracts hummers

 

RUDBECKIA (BLACK-EYED SUSAN): Flowers from June to August with no care at all; attracts butterflies

 

SALVIAS: Summer mainstays, huge variety to choose from

 

SEDUM: Tight compact flower heads, butterflies and bees, very little care

 

SPIDER PLANT OR AIRPLANE PLANT: Needs some shade but little water, good hanging basket display

 

TEXAS LANTANA: Yellow and orange flowers from summer to fall, low shrub

 

TEXAS SAGE: Oval grey leaves with lavender, purple flowers, shrub

 

TURK'S CAP: Red flowers, butterflies/hummers, can be invasive, prune if leggy and to confine it

 

YARROW: Red or yellow clusters of flowers, gray-green fern-like foliage, water seldom but deeply

 

ZINNIAS: Heat-loving faithfuls for summer color