Originally Published: July 2, 2005 6:39 a.m.
Summer is my favorite time of year. It’s a great time to travel and be outdoors for sports such as surfing, boating, camping, picnics and canyon hikes. I also love the cheap rates available to great resorts available in Phoenix and Tucson. It works out cheaper for a large family to stay at a resort and use their water parks than to pay for the water park admission for each family member. Now, that’s a great deal.
I have a lot of favorites when it comes to flowers, but summer offers the really showy ones. You’ll find in the next few weeks that these summer heat lovers will be showing off for all to enjoy. The biggest and most notable is the butterfly bush, buddleja davidii, or summer lilac. Yes, butterflies are really attracted to this showy shrub that can grow to 8 feet tall. It’s a big one, but I like to keep mine pruned down to about the 5-foot mark.
Butterfly bush is very hardy in our area and performs well in our clay, alkaline soils, and high winds. Look for tall shrubs in your neighborhood that have hundreds of cone-shaped spikes protruding upwards from the dark leafy mass. Like other flora culture, buddleja come in a variety of colors to choose from. The most popular this season seems to be the dark purples and blues. They are spectacular up close, but I prefer the lighter-colored flowers for a show in the yard. Colors such as pink, white, yellow and lavender stand out for a stunning show against the rich green foliage.
Butterfly bush is a moderate water user in the yard. Even when this plant is abused, it seems to flower. The key to any of these summer bloomers is placement and drainage. The hotter the spot, the better the blooms. They like it bright and warm, but the soil needs to drain. Buy a bag of mulch per plant and blend into the native soil for a healthier plant and better blooms.
Now is a great time to add some fertilizer to the entire yard, but especially for your blooming plants and roses. Regular feeding promotes deeper colors and more blooms. I like slow-release granular fertilizers instead of liquids for tri-city gardens. I use “Start-N-Grow” by Fertilome for plants at the garden center and in my own yard.
For color that blooms from now through Thanksgiving, there are two that make a statement, and both are as tough as the Southwest. Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) has a lavender to dark purple flower depending on the PH of your soil, and grows to about four feet in height. The flowers look as though they are floating above the main body of the plant, which is a silvery blue color. This plant works great on a grade because it is so hardy; in addition, the blooms are beautiful when viewed from a deck or patio. The flowers are so light and airy that they appear equally beautiful when viewed from below the soil grade.
The second is autumn sage (salvia greggii), with its glowing red flowers that hummingbirds simply adore. Again, this plant acts like a native in our soil, but it outperforms others in a show of color when placed on drip irrigation. The foliage is so delicate and the flowers so intense that you must stop and admire this shrub that grows to three feet and equally as wide. Use a good fertilizer and you can accentuate the colors between the dark green leaves and bright flowers for a real garden stopper.
The queen of the summer bloomers is the rose of Sharon (hibiscus syracus) for its huge blooms that cover this shrub so heavily that it’s difficult to see the foliage. This hibiscus is related to the tropical hibiscus that all my Phoenix and California customers are asking for, only this one is hardy for the area. The tropical hibiscus have a slightly larger flower than ours, but they are wimps when it comes to our cold winters.
Rose of Sharon is such a pleasure to see in the yard that many customers collect varieties much like traditional roses. Single-flower petal varieties look much like a hibiscus you would find on the lush islands of Hawaii, only smaller. The flowers range from the purist white, ready for any wedding reception, to red, blue, purple and pink. The most popular varieties mix several colors together on the same flower. They are truly stunning when in bloom.
Rose of Sharon also comes in a double flower petal that has a lacy look, and full appearance much like a really big carnation. Colors are just as varied, with the plants growing to about seven feet tall in the area. I would classify this plant as easy to grow. It prefers heat and tolerates drought in our clay soils. Blooms will last until fall.
The product mix changes at garden centers in summer. Grasses are starting to look good, and roses are in by the hundreds with many new varieties in full bloom. The summer blooming shrubs are in and ready to plant. New shipments of fountains, pottery and heat-loving perennials will appear through July. Ready-made containers are full and ready to decorate for summer parties and get-togethers.
Summer is a great time to get out there and plant; just remember to irrigate your new garden plantings. You’ll find that plants will continue to bloom, grow and root quickly in the warm soil and gorgeous nights. Garden during the cool of the morning when the sun and wind are less intense.
Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.