Summer color that stands up to the Death Star

As the Death Star sizzles for weeks on end — 100 degrees F and no rain in sight — it might seem as if all the garden can do is endure. But no! Plants that put on their best show in the heat of summer, even a Central Texas summer, abound. Here are a few I’m enjoying right now, starting with ‘Colorado’ waterlily. Sure, it’s growing in water, so why wouldn’t it enjoy summer? Still, all you need is a large tub or a stock tank to have one of your own.

Delicate-seeming candy lily (x Pardancanda norrisii) saves its flowering for midsummer too. While the tiny, freckled blossoms lack a waterlily’s showiness, they’re a sweet discovery on a hot day.

Dependable plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) is a summer favorite. Mine is a dark-blue variety that I prefer to the more common sky blue, but they’re all summer performers.

Structural plants like agaves and yuccas are unfazed by triple-digit heat. But have you tried dainty, speckled ‘Bloodspot’ mangave? (Click the link to see the beautiful foliage.) In summer, a mature plant sends up a bloom spike with pale-yellow flowers that lasts for a couple of weeks.

Firecracker fern (Russelia equisetiformis) fights fire with fire, its arching stems erupting in a cascade of tubular, crimson flowers all summer. Even better, in my opinion, is round-leaf firecracker fern (Russelia rotundifolia), pictured here, which takes more shade. This one lights up a grocery store parking lot in my neighborhood. It’s traffic stopping!

A few weeks ago we enjoyed a rare summer rain, and the rain lilies (Zephryanthes ‘Labuffarosea’) burst into grateful bloom.

A while back I experimented with planting rain lily bulbs in a hanging planter, and they lived but didn’t thrive. So recently I pulled everything out and replanted, in the process finding that the bulbs had multiplied threefold. I separated them, laid them in a cardboard box on an outdoor table, and then forgot about them for a week. Meanwhile, it rained, and this happened.

Yes, they bloomed without even being in the ground. Aren’t bulbs amazing little energy capsules? ‘Labuffarosea’ rain lilies will bloom several times throughout the summer, whenever we get a rain shower. As a bonus their leaves, like monkey grass, are evergreen in our climate.

Of course, even without our summer-loving plants to provide color, there’s always the evening sky.

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30 Responses

  1. Those rain lilies are amazing. I wish I could grown them here. I really like that blue plumbago flower too. Wow it looks like a hydrangea on steroids or a realllly blue phlox. Wonderful.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The plumbago does have a similar look to hydrangea (though less showy) or phlox. It gives a pseudo-tropical vibe to the Southern summer garden. —Pam

      • Diana Studer says:

        the dark blue variety is Royal Cape.
        But the ones I have tried haven’t been convincingly darker.
        Must choose a flowering plant next time!

        • Pam/Digging says:

          Thanks for the name, Diana. You’re right that it’s not significantly darker than the regular blue plumbago, but for me it’s enough to like it! I’ve just never been a fan of the lighter blue. —Pam

  2. Jean says:

    I bought a ‘Bloodspot’ mangave last year but didn’t realize they bloom like that. Hope mine does that soon. My zinnias and salvias are still blooming away. Have even had a daylily bloom here and there!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      ‘Bloodspot’ has a really cool bloom, Jean. Unlike agaves, the mangave lives on after the bloom — but not for very long, at least not the ones I’ve had. The downside…

      Speaking of daylilies, I had one in bloom yesterday too! So surprising for this time of year. —Pam

  3. Rachelle says:

    The Death Star has been something this year! I always refer to the area in which I live, central WI, as the Devil’s Dome. This year, the meteorologists also referred to the heat build-up as a heat dome. It just hangs on.

    While I have ample groundwater from a well in an aquifer and can water, foliage does seem to look like green leather, and not fresh. With my miserably cold winters and spring winds, I’m not sure I have yet found the right mix for my garden.

    I saw your posts on The Fling, and I am sure the MN gardeners all water. And after the six weeks of daylily-apalooza, it would be nice to have something else to admire! The best I can come up with is asters, which have their draw-backs, and hydrangeas (except the large leaf types, which do not reliably bloom here) especially the paniculatas. After two years of frying the flower heads of my Annabelles I ran a soaker hose through them.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Rachelle, I would never have dreamed that Wisconsin could have serious heat, so I’ve learned something today. At any rate, every place has its challenges, and we just have to keep planting until we hit on the right combos for our particular circumstances, right? Of course, that’s also the fun of it too. :) Thanks for reading! —Pam

      • Rachelle says:

        It always feels like I am either freezing, or broiling. We do not seem to get a lot of in-between days.It seems even our natives take a hit weather-wise. I have been going with a lot more shrubs with some seasonal bloom/color and good leaf form or shape.

  4. Judy Baumann says:

    How big of a tub would be needed for a water lily?
    That’s gorgwous!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I’ve seen lilies in large bowls. I would think at least a foot deep and two feet wide would work, especially for the dwarf waterlilies like ‘Helvola’. —Pam

      • Rachelle says:

        Waterlilies in Wisconsin would need a body of water at least three feet deep. Some people do overwinter them here, the size of the bowl could depend on location. Gardening is so local.

  5. Lara Leaf says:

    Beautiful! Nice to see bloom in the middle of our Texas summer. For years, I kept bloom up in summer here in Houston; however, my water bill got outrageous and I quit gardening like that. Nowadays, I rely on shrubs for blooms, since I do not garden as I used to. One shrub that does great here, blooms nicely all summer long, is the Hamelia. I have several around the yard and all the nectar insects plus hummingbirds love them. We do cut it down to the ground for winter but it readily rebounds in late spring. They make a large, mounding shrub in one summer that is taller than the eaves.
    I have also planted purpleleaf loropetalum with golden duranta – my favorite shrub combination – for foliage color (even though prolonged heat makes them lose some of their color).
    I love the Russelia in a tall square clay planter! It is so graceful and cascades so well. With the sun on it, the stems / foliage are a grass green and the blooms a brilliant red – very eye catching.
    I love rain lilies. I’ve seen yellow ones along the road to the Battleship Texas – very pretty.
    Thank you for showing what color you have going in your garden at this time!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Hamelia is a great woody perennial for summer color! Thanks for pointing that one out. Like you, I’m a fan of firecracker fern in pots. It cascades so beautifully. —Pam

  6. Lara Leaf says:

    Hmmm, I am thinking that that plumbago would really be pretty if planted in a tallish large container with the Russelia…. I’ve had problems trying to grow plumbago in the past in the front bed. I am sure it did not like the conditions. The only shade it received was a little in the morning *sigh*. It was next to a concrete driveway *sigh*. The front bed sizzled *sigh*! The plumbago would be happier in the place in backyard I am thinking of – morning sun, afternoon shade. But I wonder if the Russelia would like it – it seems to shrug off and luxuriate in that afternoon sun! Maybe next year, I’ll give it a try. Too hot for anything new for me nowadays!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Try the round-leaf russelia (R. rotundifolia) if you pair it with shade-loving plumbago, Lara. It seems to handle shade a lot better than the sun-loving R. equisetiformis. —Pam

  7. Kris P says:

    I’m impressed by all those blooms, Pam. I’ve recently noticed plumbago in bloom throughout my own area and started thinking that may be just the ticket on my currently colorless (and half-dead) back slope. I’m also amazed by those rain lilies. I planted a few last year but have seen blooms (few in number) just once – apparently, they’re not fooled into blooming by irrigation.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Plumbago is pretty tough once established, Kris. It prefers shade here in Austin, just FYI. Hopefully it’ll work for your slope. And yes, the rain lilies know the difference between water from a hose and water from the sky. —Pam

  8. Jenny says:

    Wonderful color, Pam, especially those candy lilies. And those rain lilies just weren’t going to miss out on the chance to bloom. I find it strange that you can dig up bulbs when they are blooming but I know that was how I received my Oxblood lilies from Melissa years ago. Tough little beauties. I saw plumbago trained as a vine in England this year. It looks as though yours may be scaling the tree.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The bulbs weren’t in bloom when I dug them up. They sent up the blooms while sitting bare-root in a cardboard box for a week, waiting to be planted. Once we got that rain, they decided it was time to flower, even in a box! —Pam

  9. Randy says:

    Everything looks just as lovely as can be! Glad to see you are doing so well. :0)

  10. Margaret says:

    Those water lilies are gorgeous as is the candy lily. I think we are probably approaching a record summer in terms heat. Normally, we average around 8 days or so every summer where the temperature is over 86F (not including humidity) and so far this year, we’ve had 22…and we are in for the hottest week yet with humidex readings up to 105!

  11. Those rain lilies are a hoot. Just goes to show you Mother Nature has her own plan!

  12. Laura Munoz says:

    Love the candy lily. (You’ve posted about it before, and I loved it when I saw it then too.) The rain lilies look so sweet. I have plumbago blooming as well. It’s such a tough plant.

    My new place has lots of light shade from very old trees with high canopies. Surprisingly, none of the plants I thought would pout in the shade (for example verbena) look unhappy. Maybe Texas shade is equivalent to Seattle or Vermont’s sun?

  13. Robin says:

    It seems like we have Texas type weather every summer, endless hot, dry days, but then winter comes, and we have a completely opposite climate. It’s difficult to plant for! I’m fascinated by rain lilies, even though we don’t have them here. Can you trick them into blooming with the hose?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Robin, hot, dry weather is no fun for most gardeners. I confess, though, that I’m having trouble imagining that you’re really experiencing Texas-style summers in Indiana (isn’t that where you are?). Of course heat and dryness are all relative, and I hope you get relief soon! As for the rain lilies, they only bloom when it rains. Irrigating doesn’t fool them. —Pam