With record high temperatures, recently gardens are facing tremendous challenges. According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, before you plant any new plants this summer, be sure that your beds are in good shape. Add several inches of organic matter, such as shredded pine bark, peat or rice hulls, to your beds to help the soil absorb and store water. Raised beds are a must for drought resistant plants since they cannot tolerate “wet feet”. Mulching also cuts down on the amount water lost to evaporation.
Several large shrubs are especially drought resistant. Crepe Myrtle is one of my favorites (yes, it is a shrub.) There are new mildew resistant varieties ranging from 20-foot tall trees to dwarf forms. The possumhaw, a deciduous holly similar to the evergreen Yaupon holly. This Texas Superstar grows well in gumbo soil and its red berries in the winter attract birds. The Fringe tree is a large deciduous shrub that also grows well in gumbo. Its lacy spring flowers attract butterflies. The Texas Mountain Laurel with its fragrant blue flowers is a large shrub that can grow up to 20 feet tall. It is not a fast grower, however. The Loropetalum or Chinese fringe reaches heights of 8 to 12 feet, but can be pruned. It should not be planted in a crowded bed or in a corner. It needs acid soil, has vibrant pink flowers, and is practically pest free.
Every garden should have perennials for a source of reliable color and texture. The Cuphea or Cigar Plant forms a 3 foot mound and sports red and yellow tubular flowers from September to first frost. Another red-blossomed plant is the Hamelia or Firebush. This root hardy plant can grow into a 5-foot mound. A lower growing plant, “New Gold” lantana is a popular heat resistant variety that flowers in the spring. Other lantanas come in a range of colors. In addition to their beauty these three perennials are hummingbird magnets. Another poll winner was the Purple Coneflower. “Bright Star” is an especially good choice with blooms in spring and fall. Because it can reach heights of 4 feet, it is a good choice for background planting. It also reseeds. Another plant that reseeds and can take the heat is Salvia. There are many varieties of this perennial, but one of the best for our area is salvia farinacea. It grows in 2 to 3 foot mounds and produces blue blooms from spring to frost. It just would not be right to leave out the tried and true Plumbago, another root hardy plant that produces cool blue flowers from May to frost. This weeping plant will grow just about anywhere.For those areas that receive very little watering, you might try these two succulents, Pavonia, or desert rose, and Bulbine. The latter is an evergreen with spiky aloe-like leaves and produces yellow or tangerine colored blooms on tall stems. Other perennials you might want to try are daylilies, Katie ruellias, Mexican heather, Moy Grande hibiscus, and Gold Star esperanza.
There are several annuals that love the heat and are real winners. Portulaca and Purslane, with their vibrant colors, thrive in the most extreme summer conditions. They do well in rock gardens or along walkways where they can spill over borders. Coreopsis requires little or no attention and produces a mass of yellow blooms. It is available in varieties that range in height from 3 feet to 18 inches. The smaller mounding type is suitable for border planting. Another favority is narrow leaf zinnia. This is one tough plant. Not only did it bloom all summer, but it was also resistant to powdery mildew and leaf spot. It self sows seeds to boot. So far the only colors available are white, yellow-gold, and orange, but the butterflies still love them. Vines can be useful in the well-planned garden. They can break up a blank wall, cascade gracefully over a rock waterfall, or shade an arbor. The trick is to find one that is not only beautiful, but also able to survive our summer scorchers. The coral vine may be just the ticket. This Mexico native is a vigorous deciduous tuber that can grow 30 to 40 feet in one year and it produces lacy pink blossoms. Another heat loving plant is the butterfly vine, an evergreen with small yellow flowers and unusual butterfly shaped seedpods. Bougainvillea is another climbing plant that is used more in containers, but can be grown in ground. Although they are drought tolerant, they are not winter hardy and need protection. And you thought cactus was your only option for a Texas summer garden!
These are only a few of the types of plants that can take what our state dishes out in the summer. I’m sure you can find a combination that will give you new look in your garden that will be less labor intensive. For more information of this or any other agricultural topics please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 of email me at [email protected]
Mario Villarino DVM, Ph.D.
Hopkins County Extension Agent for Ag and NR
1200B Houston Street
Sulphur Springs, Texas 75482