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Eight Great Plants for Summer Color

Try some of these plants for color through the summer, no matter what the temperature outside!

When the mid-summer doldrums hit and you’re hot and wilted, nothing will perk you up like watching colorful blossoms swaying in the breeze with birds and butterflies flitting from flower to flower, oblivious to the approaching triple digits on the thermometer.

Your garden can provide this enjoyment without making you a slave to the sprinkling can and soaker hoses.  Once established, many native plants bloom right through heat and drought with little need for watering.  Here are a few that will provide just the pick-me-up you need this July and August.

  1. Butterfly  Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) Its incredible orange blossoms will wake anyone from a mid-summer slump.  This plant thrives in hot, dry soil and is an important host plant for the monarch butterfly.    It loves dry soil so much, it will languish if you plant it where there is too much moisture, and it doesn’t do well in clay.  Give it a sunny, well drained site and watch it flourish.
  2. Snow Flurry Heath Aster (Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry’)  This ground-hugging perennial plant is covered with small white flowers in late summer.  It is also called ‘Heath Aster’ because of its very small leaves. A perfect groundcover in a sunny dry site. This dwarf selection is perfect for edging and rock gardens
  3. New England Aster (Aster novae angliae):  The taller cousin to snow flurry aster, it rises anywhere from 2’ to 6’ or more depending on the selection, but can be handily kept shorter with some spring snipping .  It will grow in moist to dry soil and its sports blossoms  in shades from pink to purple.  Butterflies love this one.  It takes the heat and keeps on going.
  4. Coneflower (Echinacea species):  Coneflowers are one of the most popular genus of native plants in American gardens.  Echinacea purpurea blooms reliably in pink to purple,  attracting butterflies.    You’ll certainly be able to capture of photo of a monarch sitting atop a purple coneflower.  Once the petals are spent, the dried seed heads provide food for finches and other birds.   Other species of coneflower are Tennesse Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis), Yellow Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa), and Pale Coneflower (Echinacea pallida). 
  5. Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium species):  What’s not to like about these massive mauve blossoms that beckon to butterflies near and far?  They can grow to 6 ft or more, but are easily trimmed back in spring for a shorter stature if desired.  They like full sun and appreciate average to moist site.  Once established, this plant can tolerate heat and dry spells.
  6. False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides):  A perky yellow flower, 3 feet tall or so, that appreciates sun to part sun, is fairly adaptable as to soil moisture and is amazingly heat tolerant. 
  7. Blazing Star (Liatris spicata):  Glorious spikes of purple flowers appear above grass like foliage and work well in any garden.  Liatris like a moist to wet site, but will tolerate drought.  It’s floriferous spikes provide nectar for butterflies and make wonderful cut flowers.
  8. Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata):  There are so many cultivars of this plant available that you can plant almost any color of the rainbow.  From the white of Phlox ‘David’ to the Magenta of Phlox ‘Flamingo’ and all the colors in between, you’ll never tire of this garden stand-by.  Of course, butterflies love them all. 

These are just a few of the many plants that can provide color in your garden through the heat of summer.  It’s never too late to add one or two plants to your garden.  By selecting one of these native species you’ll not only add a spot of color, but provide important habitat for birds, butterflies and pollinators.

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Susan Lenthe Hancock July 04, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Thanks for the tips - i will try to get some of these for my sun deck pots next weekend
RuralLiving July 07, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Milkweed flowers have a really intense fragrance that really carries far!!
Louise Schaefer July 07, 2012 at 07:59 PM
I love their scent! That's the common milkweed, a great plant if you have the room for it and an important butterfly host plant. The Butterfly Milkweed mentioned in this posting does not really have a scent -- but the bright orange color more than makes up for it!
Jean Diehl August 15, 2012 at 02:07 PM
The false sunflowers I have are 6 or more feet tall. Do you know if they can be prumed to a smaller height?
Louise Schaefer August 16, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Hi Jean, they can be cut back in spring before they set their flower buds. Try cutting them back next year in late may. Cut them back by half their height. You could also try another cut back in late june. Look for flower buds....if you are cutting off small flower buds, you will delay the bloom by a bit.

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