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Extreme weather events, like the heat dome we experienced last June, are causing many of us to reflect on the types of plants we choose for our summer gardens. Water restrictions, too, are prompting us to look for plants that are more heat and drought tolerant.
There are some great choices available, but even these plants need better moisture-retaining soils in which to grow. Both garden beds and container plantings need rich, organic compost and manures worked into the soil to help hold moisture and allow roots to grow deeper and become more self-sufficient.
Focal points, or so-called “thrillers,” are the most important plants because they set the tone for their surrounding plantings. The many new dracaena palms, especially the rich burgundy Red Star and Torbay, a yellow-and-green bicolour, as well as the many new phormiums (New Zealand flax) are prime examples of excellent focal points that thrive in the heat.
New colourful canna lilies and tropical colocasias, with their large leaves that come in a range of colours—especially the black varieties—are dramatic “thrillers.”
Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum Rubrum), with its beautiful rich burgundy leaves and charming flower heads that dance in the slightest breeze, continues to be a star focal plant.
Contrasting foliage creates a huge impact in any planting combination, and the “queens of the heat” are the ornamental sweet potato vines, which now come in an array of rich colours from hot lime and jet black to red burgundy and attractive rust shades. They work overtime in the colour and heat tolerance departments.
Silver foliage is the new magic accent, and the exquisite Angel Wings senecio is a real standout. It adds incredible punch to any plant grouping. The lacy, silver foliage of Parfum d’Ethiopia artemisia offers a touch of class, as well as a pleasant fragrance. The long, trailing, silver foliage of Silver Falls dichondra is also an absolute “must have” accent. Even during the hottest summers, it always provides a stellar performance.
Trailing Dragon Wings fibrous begonias, both pink and red, have remarkable resilience, even in the most challenging summer heat. Long, trailing cascade and mini-cascade geraniums, the pride of Switzerland, have a single flowering habit of large, soft lavender pink, red and white no-quit blooms, regardless how hot the temperature becomes.
Although they close their flowers at night, the new Cupcake portulacas are also a match for even the worst heat and sun exposure. I like to pair them with the vibrant purple foliage of setcreaseas for some extra pop.
Traditional heat-lovers are also seeing some new additions to their ranks, such as Easy Wave petunias, Endurance marigolds, New Day gazanias, Lucky Star pentas, Mega Bloom vinca majors, Proven Winners’ Rockin salvias and Ball Seeds’ Big Blue salvias.
These varieties are some of the best of the best, both for garden performance and for tolerance of the worst heat and drought that summer can bring. However, keep in mind that all plants need time to adjust to the heat and become established before they can fulfil their promise of performance. Sometimes there will be minor wilting in the hottest sun, even though the soil is moist. In this situation, don’t water, just let the plants recover in the cooler evening temperatures.
Even during intense summer weather, we can enjoy lots of great garden and patio colour. It’s just a matter of making new plant choices. Fortunately, there is a wonderful selection of beautiful, resilient, heat-loving plants.
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