Cool Plants for Hot Days

Sweltering summer heat doesn’t have to mean the demise of a beautiful garden. Follow these planting tips from resident garden expert John Floyd to ensure an abundance of blooms all season long.

Crepe Myrtle

Our summers are hot. If we can’t find a shade tree in the garden to stand under, we generally choose to only venture outdoors in the cool of early morning or after the sun sets in the evening. And on the hottest of days, some folks simply view their gardens through a window in the comfort of air-conditioning. Regardless of where you enjoy your garden this time of year, you have probably noticed that while many of the annuals you planted in spring are tired looking and need cutting back or replacing, others are thriving. Crinum, also called hot country lilies, are the beauties of many Southern gardens. If you want a sensational show of flowers in summer, these bulbs offer vibrant hues of pure white, pink, red, or red with white stripes. I rarely see these lilies in garden centers in our area, even in bloom, so you may have to order the bulbs or get a bulb from a friend. Dig the bulbs when they finish flowering. Older masses can have lots of bulbs, and I have seen up to 15 shoots with 40 or more blooms at once. Remember that their clumps grow bigger over time and are a showstopper when in bloom. If you get a bulb from a friend, be sure to dig deep since the bulb can be several feet in depth.

Another surprise this time of year are magic lilies, or naked ladies as some people call them. Like spider lilies, their tall stalks of pink flowers appear without foliage and seem to simply pop up in the garden. They don’t last long, but once established, they can be a showpiece in a garden for many years without much effort.

Since shade is a commodity in summer, there are some beautiful plants that call for little to no sun. I can’t think of a group of plants with a more diverse range of foliage colors than hostas or plantain lilies. If planted in shade with good soil and kept watered in our dry summers, they will thrive for years. These shade lovers have leaves as big a dinner plates or as small as a demitasse spoon. While their blooms of blue or white flowers are nice, it’s all about the foliage’s striking appearance in the garden. Foliage colors range from variegated in both white and yellow to bold bright greens to almost all-yellow foliage, as well as powdery blue-green to crisp dark green. I suggest you purchase hostas where you can select the foliage color and size you need for your garden. I often buy them now since they are usually on sale at our local nurseries. Other great shade perennials that look good in our hot summers include native and tropical ferns, rhodea or Nippon lily, and both the green and variegated types of Solomon’s seal.

Even as the heat of summer lingers, your garden can still be beautiful and colorful with a little forethought into choosing the right plants.

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Floyd’s To Do List: July/August


Container plants This time of year, container plants are generally root-bound and need water almost daily, as well as fertilization with liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks to keep them putting out fresh foliage and flowers. It’s also important to groom them by cutting out the spent flowers and old tired foliage.

Turf Grass Hot dry days mean your turf needs deep watering. Thirty to 40 minutes of water several times a week is much better than a sprinkle of water daily for 10 to 15 minutes. In addition, our Southern deciduous turf grasses, except centipede, need a high-nitrogen fertilizer watered in well to keep their true rich green color this time of the year.  Remember the first number of the fertilizer trio represents the amount of nitrogen it contains.

Shrubs If you find shrubs that you like in a garden center, buy them now to give them plenty of time to become established before cold weather arrives. The plants may even be priced to move because garden centers don’t like to carry over some types of plant materials to the next year. Just remember that many plants put out this time of year die because they can’t absorb enough water. Be sure to cut the roots in several places to allow the water to enter into the soil ball.

Pruning Mophead or florist hydrangeas are generally finished blooming by now, so this is the time to cut off the old blooms and prune and shape as needed. These plants will set their buds in late summer and early fall, which means that if you wait and prune them later, you will cut off next year’s flowers.

Don’t be afraid to tip-prune crepe myrtles as they finish flowering. This will produce a second set of blooms that will probably be smaller that the initial blooms. I like to prune mine right below the bloom stalk where the new flower shoots will fill the ends of the stems. Also, remove any suckers from around the base, and don’t be afraid to remove wayward shoots or branches as well.

Garden annuals Petunias, marigolds, coleus, zinnias, and other annuals need a pinch or a cut now. Remove the spent flowers on zinnias and marigolds by cutting them just below the flower. As for petunias, coleus, zinnias, and many others that are becoming tall and leggy, cut them back to right above a cluster of leaves where they will put on a fresh crop of foliage and flowers for fall.  An application of a granular fertilizer like 15-0-15, watered in well, stimulates new growth.

Tomatoes If you love tomatoes like I do, try to find several transplants in the marketplace to plant now. Often they look rough and usually off-color, but if you plant them deep in the garden and then water and fertilize them, you can continue to enjoy these fruit in your salads with the fall lettuces.

John Floyd has been gardening in the Birmingham area for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was editor-in-chief of Southern Living. For daily tips and more garden information, visit

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