Late-Summer Fixes for the Garden
These colorful plants can lift your garden out of the summer doldrums.
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Unless you've planned ahead, late summer can mean dog days in the garden as the festive color palette of spring and early summer slowly fades to a dull droopy green. To lift your garden out of the late-summer doldrums, consider some of these saving graces. If you're lucky, you may be able to find them in containers at your garden center. If not—or if the weather or climate won't let you plant—put these on your shopping list for the next growing season.
Coleus. A steady stream of new cultivars has given this old standby annual a whole new dazzle. The colors are more intense, the color combos more numerous and some—the "sun coleus"—can stand up to full sun. Plus, most of the new ones don't bloom, so you don't have to worry about constant deadheading. Planted in masses, these globs of vibrant color will carry your garden through from spring till frost.
Alternanthera. 'Purple Knight'. Stunning, lush, easy, vigorous—all describe this foliage plant that puts on a show of rich, dark-purple foliage from late spring to frost. It's an annual that's very easy to grow and tough enough to handle rough weather and the summers of subtropical climates. The plant can reach 1 1/2 to almost 3 feet high and almost as wide.
Salvia. This is a huge family of annuals and perennials, some of which bloom over long periods, including into fall. All salvias need good drainage and most grow quickly. Many are a favorites of hummingbirds. The Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) has spectacular lavender and white (or all lavender) spikes from late summer to frost. Hardy to Zone 7b, it's grown as an annual in cooler areas. Salvia 'Indigo Spires' bears dark purple flowers on arching stems all summer until frost (hardy to Zone 7b). Autumn sage (S. greggii) is a staple in desert landscaping because of its tolerance to heat and drought. A perennial that's hardy to Zone 7, it blooms over long periods, depending on climate, and is available in purplish-red, red, white, pink and salmon.
The fire-engine-red flowers of pineapple sage (S. elegans) start in earnest in late summer (tender perennial in Zone 7). The common scarlet sage (S. splendens), which blooms from spring to frost, also comes in a host of other colors including cream, pink, orange, salmon, purple and bicolors. More on salvia
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). A tough, low-maintenance perennial that's hardy to Zone 5, this four-foot silvery-gray-green plant produces foot-long panicles of lavender-blue flowers in late summer and early fall. Opt for cultivars (such as 'Blue Mist' or 'Blue Spire') rather than seed-grown plants.
Scabiosa (Scabiosa columbaria). The pincushion flower—so named because the stamens stand above the petals—blooms from late spring to frost. 'Butterfly Blue' and 'Pink Mist' are favorite renditions. So is the prolific bloomer 'Samantha's Pink'. Perennial, hardy to Zone 4.
Dwarf crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica). The lovely woody shrubs and trees gardeners have come to depend on in August can also provide color close to the ground. The semi-dwarf and dwarf forms can easily be tucked into landscape beds. Some of the smallest: 'Chickasaw' (2 to 3 feet, pink-lavender); 'Centennial' (3 to 5 feet, lavender); 'Victor' (3 to 5 feet, dark red); the Chica series, 'Monink' (3 feet, bright pink) and 'Moned' (3 to 4 feet, rose red); 'Bourbon Street' (2 to 3 feet, watermelon red, weeping form); 'New Orleans' (1-1/2 to 3 feet, lavender, weeping).
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