With more than a week of temperatures hovering at or above 100 degrees, many east Texas gardens are looking a bit ragged. But some gardens still boast plenty of blooms.
So how do you find those heat-loving plants? It’s not as simple as getting a list of plants from the desert Southwest, as many of these cannot tolerate our high humidity. Similarly, you can’t just pick from a list of Texas native plants – plants that thrive in alkaline caliche soils may not adapt to the acid soils we have. The best way to find blooms for summer is to visit public gardens or landscapes local to you, and see what looks nice now. (Be sure to check the irrigation and soil to ensure you can mimic these growing conditions).
One place to visit is the Quitman Arboretum and Botanical Gardens – there’s a lot in bloom right now, including most of the plants listed below. While many of the beds are irrigated, the Arboretum also offers a water-wise garden (the bed that is between the Arboretum and Civic Center parking lots) that does not have an irrigation system; plants are only watered regularly till they’re established.
Among the plants that will bloom in our hot, dry yet humid summers are some Texas natives. You can’t go wrong if you plant mealy sage with its flower spikes of blue or white. This long-blooming perennial is a favorite of bees – the flowers nod in the mornings with the weight of bumblebees searching for nectar – but said to be deer resistant. “Henry Duelberg” is an exceptional deep blue selection that is available in many nurseries.
Another sage that should find its way into your garden is autumn sage. Autumn sage forms a nice mound in your garden, with soft, fragrant foliage on its woody stems. My favorites are the deep reds and the hot pink, but you can find almost any color that fits your garden. Other native plants that bloom in summer include red yucca, Turk’s cap, and flame acanthus, all of which you can see at the Arboretum.
But your summer-blooming garden need not be limited to native plants. There are plenty of adapted perennials in bloom throughout the summer, though most need supplemental watering. I don’t think any garden is complete without at least one summer phlox, a tall, upright, long-blooming perennial. Their showy flower clusters literally dance with butterflies. The best varieties for east Texas are “Robert Poore” with violet-pink flowers, and “John Fanick,” a soft pink with lavender center.
Another clump-forming perennial is the cigar plant (Cuphea ignea), with orange and yellow tubular flowers up and down its tall stems. Also blooming in shades of red, orange, or yellow are Uruguayan firecracker plant, tropical milkweed, and firebush. Firebush performs better once the summer heats up; it is late to come back after a cold winter, so it’s best to treat this as an annual or container plant.
For perennial summer color in blues and purples, plant black and blue salvia with cobalt-blue flowers; Amistad salvia with deep purple blooms; tall verbena (also called ‘verbena on a stick’) with purple blooms on insanely tall, thin stems; or Russian sage, with silvery lacey leaves and light blue-violet spires of blooms. For all of these perennials, a light sheering as one flower cycle fades will encourage repeat blooms.
For big splashes of color in your summer garden, consider planting some flowering shrubs or trees. For years, the favorite blooming tree in the south has been the crape myrtle, which is also available in shrub forms. Some crape myrtles also have attractive dark foliage, or pretty exfoliating bark. Other trees with summer flowers include the chaste tree and desert willow. You can see examples of these in the water-wise bed at the Arboretum.
Summer-flowering shrubs for Texas summers include Texas sage, with its soft silver-gray or green leaves and pink-purple flowers; Brazilian rock rose, with its hundreds of hibiscus-like blooms of white flowers with deep red centers; glossy abelia, with its shiny leaves and clusters of pink-blushed white bells; and butterfly bush, with trusses of pink, blue, or purple. My favorite butterfly bush for ease of care and versatility is the weeping butterfly bush that we grow at the Arboretum. This small semi-evergreen shrub will bloom in full sun to full shade, from March until the first freeze. It does not need to be cut back after the winter, and its blooms get longer as the summer progresses.
So grab your camera and your note pad, and come out to a local public garden to see what’s flowering. You’ll find something that will bloom this summer, in your East Texas garden.
Lin Grado is the garden manager at the Quitman Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Email gardening questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join her and other volunteers each Wednesday morning at 9 at the Arboretum for gardening fun.