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Get it Growing: These colorful plants take the heat

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BabyWing begonia | Photo by Allen Owings

It’s not too late to add colorful bedding plants to your landscape, but it’s important to choose plants that are able to thrive in the intense heat of a Louisiana summer. Summer bedding plants come in a variety of heights, textures and colors, and they are adapted to grow in everything from moist, shady areas to hot, dry, sunny locations.

get it growingYou can create cool, elegant color schemes with pastels, or an explosion of bright, vibrant colors full of excitement with more vivid colors. Summer plants can be used in flower beds, mixed borders, containers and hanging baskets to provide the color you crave wherever you want it. Check out the following plants and many other delightful choices for summer color at your local nursery.

Angelonia (Angelonia angustifolia) is a relative newcomer to summer gardens. We didn’t see it in the nurseries until the late 1990s. Since then, more colors and sizes have been developed, and you should find a nice selection at your local nursery. These are among the most reliable and heat-tolerant plants for sunny, well-drained locations. I especially recommend the Serena angelonias as well as Serenita Raspberry, which are Louisiana Super Plants selections.

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 flowers tend to close up in the afternoon during the intense heat of midsummer, but the plants stay neat, attractive and free from pests from the time you plant them until the first freeze. Blue My Mind is a new, improved cultivar.

A versatile and reliable plant that does well in part shade to shade is the wishbone flower, Torenia fournieri. This annual plant provides a tremendous display of blue, purple, lavender, rose, pink or white flowers over an extended period. The Louisiana Super Plant selection Kauai series torenias are outstanding. They make ball-shaped plants under a foot tall and come in a variety of beautiful colors.

The Summer Wave and Catalina torenias are quite different. These torenias are vigorous, low-growing plants that create a ground cover of color. They have amazing stamina and will be blooming constantly all summer. They come in a variety of colors and are excellent choices for hanging baskets or draped over the sides of pots.

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. Lantanas are irresistible to butterflies and are an important plant to include in flower gardens planted with these delightful insects in mind. The Bandana lantanas are Louisiana Super Plant selections that are especially compact and floriferous.

Bandana lantana | Photo by Allen Owings
Bandana lantana | Photo by Allen Owings

Baby’s breath euphorbia (Euphorbia hypericifolia) is a relatively new plant that serves the role in flower beds and containers that baby’s breath does in flower arrangements. This plant is airy and delicate in appearance but is extremely heat- and drought-tolerant. It produces small white floral bracts in huge numbers through summer. It looks great combined with almost anything.

If I could only have a few of the many heat-tolerant bedding plants, pentas (Pentas lanceolata) would be among them. And the Butterfly pentas, a Louisiana Super Plants selection, is a particularly good series to plant. Pentas stay in constant bloom all summer and into fall, with flowers in shades of white, pink, rose, lavender and red. They are absolutely care free other than trimming occasionally, and they are simply irresistible to butterflies.

Butterfly pentas | Photo by Allen Owings
Butterfly pentas | Photo by Allen Owings

The narrow-leaf zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia) is usually a brilliant, in-your-face orange. But it also comes in yellow and creamy white and loves hot, sunny 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 excellent Profusion zinnias and Zahara zinnias in many colors. They are especially disease resistant.

Along with torenias, begonias are also a great choice for shade. BabyWing begonia is a Louisiana Super Plant selection that is vigorous and blooms prolifically. Coleus, caladium and impatiens are additional plants that provide abundant 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.

Look for these great heat-tolerant plants for colorful summer flower beds at your local nursery or garden center.

Low-growing (less than 2 feet tall) – Mexican heather, ornamental peppers, ornamental sweet potato, coleus, impatiens, periwinkle, dwarf cosmos, wax begonia, dwarf pentas, dwarf globe amaranth, Victoria salvia, marigold, portulaca, blue daze, perennial verbena, purslane, abelmoschus, narrow-leaf zinnia, wishbone flower, caladium, balsam, gaillardia, celosia, lantana, scaevola.

Taller-growing (over 2 feet tall) – butterfly weed, rudbeckia, angelonia, shrimp plant, cleome, Fireworks gomphrena, melampodium, four o’clock, cosmos, hardy hibiscus (mallow), sunflower, salvias, cigar flower, Mexican sunflower (tithonia).

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu.