If you want to boost the color in your landscape, nurseries still have a good selection of colorful bedding plants that will thrive in whatever heat the summer throws at them. They come in a variety of heights, textures and colors and are adapted to grow in everything from moist, shady areas to hot, dry, sunny locations.
Here are some excellent summer bedding plants, but there are lots more. I’m sure you’ll be surprised at the selections area nurseries have and how well these plants will do in our torrid summer weather.
Angelonia (Angelonia angustifolia) is a plant still rather new to gardeners. This delightful, heat-tolerant plant produces a fairly tall, shrubby plant perfect for the middle or back of flower beds. Flower production is nearly continuous, and the blooms come in shades of purple, lavender, white, pink and rose. The Serena angelonia series is a Louisiana Super Plants selection and is especially recommended.
Blue daze (Evolvulus glomeratus) is a low-growing, shrubby bedding plant that loves summer heat and sun. Neither insects nor diseases bother this plant, whose grayish foliage and clear blue flowers add a cool note to the garden.
The wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri) is a versatile and very reliable plant that does well in full sun to part shade. This virtually foolproof annual plant provides a tremendous display of blue, purple, lavender, rose, pink or white flowers over a long period. Look for the Louisiana Super Plants Kauai series torenia.
Also outstanding are the low-growing Summer Wave and Catalina series torenias. These torenias have a vigorous, spreading growth habit and come in many colors. They are excellent as a summer ground cover, or in pots or hanging baskets.
The common lantana, or ham and eggs, (Lantana camara) has been refined into a number of garden varieties that are among the best plants for summer color. Few plants combine constant flowering, heat tolerance and ease of care as well as lantana does. Don’t forget dwarf forms that stay under 2 feet tall and taller types that get 3 feet tall or more. Know what you are buying.
If you’re looking for compact, dwarf-growing lantanas, look for the Louisiana Super Plants selection Bandana series. This series offers many colors and produces abundant flowers on compact, dome-shaped plants.
Pentas stay in constant bloom all summer and into fall, with flowers in shades of white, pink, rose, lavender and red. Dwarf varieties, such as the Louisiana Super Plants selection Butterfly series, stay less than 2 feet tall, and taller varieties grow to 3 feet. They are absolutely care free other that trimming or pinching back occasionally, if desired. And they are simply irresistible to butterflies.
The narrow-leaf zinnia (Zinnia linearis) is usually a brilliant, in-your-face orange. But it also comes in yellow and creamy white and loves hot, sunny, dry areas. It is low-growing, is constantly covered with flowers, and looks particularly nice cascading over the edge of raised planters. Also look for the new Profusion series zinnias and Zahara series zinnias, which come in several colors. They produce larger flowers on more compact plants but are just as tough and long-blooming.
A shady area is no excuse not to have summer color. I, for one, would rather work in a shady bed when it’s hot, anyway. Coleus, polka-dot plant and caladiums provide bright splashes of color with their variegated foliage. Wax begonia, torenia and impatiens provide the most reliable flower color in partly shaded conditions.
Don’t let the heat of July and August do your garden in. Choose your plants carefully, and watch your garden thrive despite the weather.
Great heat-tolerant plants for colorful summer flower beds:
Low-growing (less than 2 feet tall) — Mexican heather, ornamental peppers, coleus, dwarf angelonia, impatiens, periwinkle, dwarf cosmos, wax begonia, dwarf pentas, dwarf globe amaranth, ageratum, salvia Victoria, marigold, portulaca, blue daze, perennial verbena, purslane, rudbeckia, narrow-leaf zinnia, Profusion and Zahara zinnia, wishbone flower (torenia), caladium, gaillardia (look for the Mesa series), celosia, lantana, scaevola, dwarf melampodium.
Taller-growing (over 2 feet tall) — Butterfly weed, angelonia, shrimp plant, cleome, coleus, melampodium, four o’clock, cosmos, hardy hibiscus (look for Luna hibiscus, a Louisiana Super Plant selection), sunflower, salvia, cigar plant, Mexican sunflower (tithonia).
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu