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Brian Minter: Sun loving plants that like the heat

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We need plants that will hold up well in times of intense heat and drought: there is a wide range to choose from

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Brian Minter Proven winner Luscious Berry Blend Lantana. Proven winner Luscious Berry Blend Lantana. Photo by Minter Country Garden /.PNG

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When people start planning and planting their summer containers, baskets, and garden displays, one of the most common questions asked is heat-resistant plants.

For a brilliant, long-lasting summer color, we need plants that will hold up well in times of intense heat and drought. This is especially true for hanging baskets and containers that are exposed to the sun.

Sweet potato vine. Sweet potato vine. Photo by Minter Country Garden /.PNG

Grape vines add so much character to baskets, and the colorful foliage of the sweet potato vines (ipomoeas) is the best. Now made in a variety of colors and growing habits, they are versatile as cascading plants in both baskets and containers.

In addition to the still popular heart-shaped lime variety I. Margarita and the curled, lacy, rich black foliage from I. Blackie, new varieties from the entire color spectrum are available. Two Proven Winners series, Sweet Caroline and Illusion, are far more compact. In the Illusion series, garnet tip is bronze, midnight tip is jet black, and emerald tip is a curled hot lime. The Sweet Carolines with their more traditional maple leaf shape have a shorter growth. Sweet Caroline Light Green is a vibrant lime, Red Hawk is a deep bronze, and Raven is a dark black.

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Silver is certainly an excellent accent color, and no other silver plant matches the sheen of Dichondra Silver Falls, with its small, round, silver leaves on long, fast-growing vines that sway gently in the slightest wind. I’ve even seen growers make baskets of these vines.

As one of the toughest vines, ivy is ideal after acclimatization in full sun. The many new colorful shapes complement other colors very well. In fact, ivy can make a beautiful basket all by itself.

Scaevola. Scaevola. Photo by Minter Country Garden /.PNG

As for the flowering vines, the Scaevola from Australia is the real sleeper. I remember when it was first introduced 20 years ago. We had a supply of them in our garden center, but they weren’t selling. So we planted them in our gardens on a hot, sun-scorched, west-facing bank. Talk about a stunning display in the worst heat and drought situation. Today they come in a variety of colors and lengths of flower stems. From pure white and delicate pinks to shades of blue, they really are the workhorses of hot summer color.

Cupcake Portulaca Cupcake Portulaca Photo by Minter Country Garden /.PNG

A trailing portulaca named Cupcake is the new kid on the block. These spillover plants come in a variety of bright colors and are ideal for mixing with other lagging succulents. The only downside is their tendency to close their flowers at night.

Dragon wing begonia Dragon wing begonia Photo by Minter Country Garden /.PNG

The large green leaves of the dragon wing begonias are really shaped like a dragon wing. These up and coming stars, especially the reds and pinks, are popular for good reason. As soon as the flowers appear, they don’t stop until autumn. The warmer and hotter the place, the darker the foliage becomes until it forms a deep bronze that stands out wonderfully against the bright pink or red flowers.

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Proven winner Luscious Berry Blend Lantana. Proven winner Luscious Berry Blend Lantana. Photo by Minter Country Garden /.PNG

Lantanas have always been valued for their great color and tolerance to heat and drought, and today their shape and growing habit have changed. Proven winners The Luscious series creates a wonderful burial effect. Because of their massive flower displays, I think they are best planted by yourself. Stupid Orange has also come up with a nice trail range in a wide range of colors, which includes white. Lantanas attract hummingbirds and other pollinators.

When I was in Switzerland a few years ago, practically every house, shop and train station was adorned with beautiful, single-flower cascade and mini-cascade geraniums. The cascades are far more powerful than the compact minis, but both work wonderfully in full sun. The cascades are available in white, pink, red and lavender. When in full bloom, they glow all summer through to fall. In our part of the world, they haven’t caught on (I still hope), and because of this, they can be harder to find.

Once they get used to the sun, upright geraniums are some of the best heat and drought tolerant performers. Zonal geraniums, with their beautifully patterned leaves, are both compact and larger. Another great innovation, the Calliope geranium, is the result of cross breeding between upright and trailing varieties. I love his gentle spill habit and still offer good upright performance. There are many similar geranium crosses on the market today.

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Calliope geranium. Calliope geranium. Photo by Minter Country Garden /.PNG

Petunias of all kinds are still among the most popular sun lovers. Innovative wave petunias have caught everyone’s attention. They come in a wide variety of colors, cover the ground like no other plants, and have great weather tolerance. The proven winners’ Supertunias and Vista Petunias are ideal for containers or ground plants. Bubblegum, possibly the most vigorous petunia ever made, explodes with a color like no other. If you love pink and lots of it, this is it!

There are so many plant innovations today that it is difficult to keep up. The triploid range of hybrid marigolds is an example of this trend. They don’t produce seeds, but they outperform all others. From the new blue salvias to zinnias, summer rudbeckias, celosias, vincas, and pentas, all of them perform great in hot summer weather.

With so many options, we can all create gorgeous displays that thrive in the summer heat. Bring it on!

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Robert Dunfee