Even a not-as-hot-as-usual Texas summer takes its toll on local gardens. Typically, once August arrives, the vibrant hues and delicate blooms of our spring and early summer plantings have faded, wilted or just plain died. Watering restrictions by local municipalities add another layer of brown to this already challenging gardening season, and as the dog days of summer loom, it’s easy to develop a serious case of the droopy-leafed doldrums.
Fortunately, local horticultural experts say there are plenty of short-term solutions for our lackluster outdoor zones, and if you give them half a chance, they’ll offer endless advice about great late-summer plantings that can handle the heat and stretch into the fall — and how to care for them.
So, we did just that. Read on and catch the inspiration you’ve probably been missing.
A few heat-seekers
“Some favorite choices for plantings that handle the heat and are great for fall: crape myrtles, Mexican hawthorn and Copper Canyon daisy (mosquito plant). They last all fall.
“My advice for late-summer gardening, when water restrictions are getting us down, is to use larger containers, pots and hanging baskets. And also mulch — on everything. It stops weeds, saves water and cools plants.”
Give this black-eyed girl a chance
“A favorite planting that is hardy enough to withstand [the dog days of summer] is rudbeckia, which is also called black-eyed Susan. Its ‘Indian Summer’ variety is great to use as a backdrop or accent because the plants can grow tall.
“Others are salvia greggii, an herbaceous perennial that comes in a variety of colors, and perennial verbena — the ‘Homestead’ variety that has bright purple blooms. Also, there’s sweet potato vine, a trailing plant that’s available in different colors; blackfoot daisy, which blooms March-November; and lantana and zinnias, which provide great color and can attract butterflies and bees.”
Plant pretty perennials
“Smaller annuals that can battle the heat include periwinkles, pentas and begonias. Each of these still require regular watering (preferably in the early morning or late afternoon to evening) in order to truly thrive, but still stand up to the 100-plus temperatures and will bloom into the fall season.
“Shrubs that can withstand hot, arid conditions include yuccas (both red and soft leaf, which is also called a pendula), Texas sage (Compacta, Green Cloud and Silverado), and many forms of salvia (greggii, May Night and Victoria Blue are a few of the many options). All of these handle full sun and drought very well, and also have lengthy blooming periods that can sometimes be seen close to the winter season.
“I would also like to mention crape myrtles and vitex trees (or chaste trees). Crapes can vary in height from just a few feet tall all the way up to 25-foot-tall trees and come in a wide spectrum of colors like red, white, purple, pink and in some instances a combination of colors. The vitex tree is a small, ornamental tree that can be 15 feet by 15 feet and produces spikes of purple blooms that attract butterflies. Both of these options are very easy to maintain in full sun and can be pruned back in the winter to obtain a desired height or canopy width.
“If there is one mistake people make when landscaping, it is not knowing the proper location for their desired plants. Many times customers purchase plants that they think look really pretty in the store and then take them home to plant without knowing things like the proper soil, amount of water and sunlight they’ll need to survive … which can result in the loss of the plant. Knowing these things, as well as knowing the type of soil you have, can prevent you from selecting the wrong plants for those desired planting locations, as well as help the plants they do select thrive to their fullest potential.”
Know when they’re spent
“One of the best things to do this time of year is to cut back spent blooms and seed pods that may have formed as the result of previous blooming events (springtime). Seed pods or spent blooms prevent plants from setting new flowers. They’ve done their job, so they think.
“A plant’s main purpose is to reproduce. Flower production helps in this process (pollination). Unfortunately, seed pods or the remains of spent blooms still attached to the plant signals to the rest of the plant that its main purpose has been fulfilled and it stops blooming. We trick the plant into another blooming period by removing the spent bloom remains.
“Mortality rate of St. Augustine grass is high in the Fort Worth area due to last winter’s extreme cold temperatures. Newly installed lawns need to be monitored for proper watering. Hot weather and total rain days will determine watering frequencies. Graying, curling or wilting leaves on St. Augustine indicate that a water deficiency is present.
“My favorite into-fall plants are the plumbago, esperanza, Stella d’Oro day lily, gold lantana, moss rose and all the sedums. I discovered planting caladium bulbs [this time of year] is awesome, too. One year we had a bunch of caladium bulbs left over from spring plantings. I could not throw them away, so I planted them in shady areas around my house. I had fresh caladiums while the rest of the neighbors were saying goodbye to theirs. They showed off well into mid-November.”
The magic of mulch and water
“August is a tough time of year to be adding new annuals into the landscape. Even though it is difficult, there are still safe items to spruce up a sunny area. Lantana, zinnia, periwinkles, moss rose and a few others are pretty tough and can handle being planted during the hottest part of the year.
“There is a sweet spot for some brilliant fall colors and plantings — before the pansies are ready to plant. Garden mums, marigolds, crotons, petunias and ornamental peppers are some of the top performers for the fall. They plant well and handle the heat going into the cooler temperatures of fall; have brilliant displays of autumn harvest colors in gold, yellows, oranges and reds; and will last until the first heavy frost or freeze.
“Our largest concerns the past few years have been about water and conservation, of course. Restrictions to twice-a-week watering are actually a very good thing for lawns, trees and established landscapes. By watering less frequently and more wisely, we are forcing the roots to go deeper and stronger, creating a much more healthy plant. Too-frequent or too much water causes shallow roots that are not near as sturdy in times of stress or growth.
“For bedding plants, annuals, flowers, etc., twice a week is not enough. Additional hand-watering is required for most items we plant for flowering color. We don’t tend to overwater when required to do it manually. Water the flowers early in the morning or later in the afternoon; try not to water during the heat of the day, as many plants will burn when watered in direct, hot sunlight.
“And mulch is your friend, or at least a friend of your plants. Not only does it add that clean, finished look to the plantings, it retains moisture in the soil, not allowing the water to evaporate; mulch keeps the weeds out, too. Mulch does not last forever and it does have to be added each season.”
“Here are a couple of items that hold up very well in the heat and go into the fall with great color but aren’t run-of-the-mill plantings. Ornamental peppers give bright red, orange and purple hues that liven up the landscape after a long, hot summer. Best selections usually begin in the mid-August time frame. The other choice would be Celosia plumosa, commonly known as plumed cockscomb. Conical, feathery-type blooms of primarily reds with some golden yellow, too. Best selections are in mid-August.
“We typically don’t see much rain in August, but just as a reminder: If it is raining, we don’t need to be running irrigation systems. I saw sprinklers running [recently] while it was raining straight down. Usually by August, people don’t want to be outside in the heat and have taken a that-garden-is-on-its-own attitude. Having a good 3 inches of mulch on the beds makes sure we are conserving the moisture we have, while cooling the ground temperature and making the plants happier.””
Made for the shade
“If you have a shade garden, hostas are a great, great foliage with variegated leaves — some are green and some are blue — and in July and August they grow large stalks with white flowers. … There are so many choices. I also like coreopsis, called tickseed, and zinnias and begonias do well. Good ground covers are autumn fern and sunny sedums. The sedums have pretty yellow flowers.
“Whatever you plant, my best advice is to feed your plants. A lot of people fail to do this on a regular basis. During the hot summer months, you’ve got to feed your plants with a granular fertilizer — not the sprayers — every two weeks, because the heat takes so much out of the soil. And you have to deadhead your plants to remove the seed pods and ‘fool Mother Nature’ so they’ll keep growing new blooms.”