By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening
If you want your home or patio to look its best, plants can contribute a lot. With the prediction that this spring and summer are going to be very similar to those of the past two years, gardeners need some new ideas. What we need are plants to replace the water-lovers, the older plants, and the plants that thrived in pre-drought conditions.
The difference between caring for your former plants and the drought tolerant ones is that you have to be sure to add enough compost that the soil drains well. Most drought-tolerant plants cannot thrive in wet dirt.
Here are some selections to consider when looking for lower-maintenance, heat-tolerant plants that need about an inch of water a week.
Echinacea, or coneflowers, are perennials that can be started from seed or purchased as plants. There are dozens of colors, flower shapes and heights to choose from. A few of the newer series include Let’s Boogie (plants only), Sombrero (plants only) and the All-America selection Powwow Wild Berry, which can be started from seed. Echinacea flower colors include pink to red and cream to mustard yellow.
Zinnia elegans and Zinnia marilandica are large collections of seed-started plants that are available in garden centers or from seed racks. They are mildew resistant, bring butterflies by the dozens and thrive until hard frost. Zinnias are Mexican natives that can take the heat. Start seeds six to eight weeks before the last average frost to have plants ready to go into the garden, or purchase plants at a garden center.
Lantana plants become shrubs within a few years, taking full sun and minimal watering while blooming on and on. Popular as nectar for butterflies and skippers, they will need plenty of room to increase in size. The leaves are scented to discourage deer from eating the plants. The newer Landmark series thrives in heat, humidity and drought. Colors range from white to bright yellow and soft to dark pink and orange.
As their name implies, African daisies or osteosperums can take heat but not temperatures below 28 degrees. The plant series include Lemon Symphony, Cape Daisy, Sea Mist and Passion. The Passion Mix series can be started from seed (www.veseys.com). High nighttime temperatures in periods of extreme heat can slow flowering. Osteospermum fruiticosum is planted along the freeways in northern California, where they are called “freeway daisies.” Passion Mix and Symphony can take the most heat. Keep an eye on osteospermums and never let them suffer water stress.
Gryphon begonia has large silver-green leaves with bronze undersides. They add a tropical look to beds or large containers. Each pest-free plant grows 18 to 30 inches tall and wide in bright indirect light with little water. Gryphon begonias cannot take freezing weather but do well indoors near a window over the winter. A fantastic foliage plant, its seeds are available from Harrisseeds.com. Seed germination takes 10 days.
Euphorbias such as Cypress Spurge have been popular garden plants for decades. E. Jesse, introduced in 1998, became famous for its bright yellow floral bracts with thin, orange margins. Diamond Frost was the new euphorbia a few years ago. The newest entry in the deer-proof family is Euphoric Euphorbia. Euphoric is new this year and looks as if it flowers twice as much as Diamond Frost.
The Heat Lovers series Caliente geranium blooms all summer on trailing stems. It is a Medal of Excellence winner for zones 9 to 11, but the rest of us will have to bring it indoors during cold weather. In the summer, Caliente will appreciate afternoon shade. It would be a good choice for window boxes and pots.
Plan to refresh your garden with heat-tolerant selections this year.