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The Best Plants to Handle California’s Summertime Heat

Posted on: August 09, 2019

Summers in California’s Mediterranean climate are stressful for garden plants that lack heat-resistant qualities. However, landscaping with species from other hot or dry environments can keep your garden vibrant as ever.

As we approach the hottest days of the year, water-stress and solar radiation become ever-present threats. Exposed areas without shade, those parts of your garden that qualify as, “full sun,” are at the most risk. Sun-proof your yard with flowers, herbs and shrubs that are naturally equipped to beat the heat.

What Makes Heat-Resistant Plants Ideal for a Full-Sun Garden?

Which natural qualities come together to help a plant thrive in full sun? Heat-resistant species usually come from parts of the world near the equator. Plants that originated in equatorial regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America can survive a wide variety of conditions that would often kill species from cooler environments. Because of their adaptive traits, they tolerate direct sun without drooping or withering. In fact, some can only reach their full potential in direct sun, bursting into bloom this time of year.

Traits that many of these species share include:
  • Bright or light-colored flowers: High levels of brilliantly colored antioxidants in petals allow the flowers to survive incredible amounts of solar radiation without withering. According to the Berkeley Lab, bright pigments like carotenes protect plants from the sun.
  • Waxy or hairy leaves: Waxy or hairy coatings on leaves keep water in while shielding the green parts of the plant from ‘burning out’ as they produce nutrients and oxygen. Hairs can also act as a sort of sunscreen, guarding the fleshy parts of a plant from full-strength UV rays, according to the Record Courier.
  • Thin, tough stems: Plant stems are like inflatable bendy straws.Water stress, created by high temperatures, can make plants go limp, which makes it even harder for them to suck water up and distribute it to the places it needs to go. Firm, thin stems keep plants upright, without exposing much surface area to water loss.

Top Heat-Resistant Plants for Your Summer Garden

SummerWinds has compiled a list of some of our favorite beautiful and resilient plants that thrive in hot temperatures. This guide will fill you in on how these incredibly varied flowering plants can give your yard new life this season.

6 – Heat-Resistant Plants in the Aster Family

This family of complex-yet-classic flowers grow in every corner of the world, taking up sunny or high-exposure niches wherever plant life exists. Asters are characterized by spreading petal crowns and thin, hairy green portions. Their delicate appearance and hardy nature make them ideal plants for spots in your garden that receive full sun.

1. Zinnias

Zinnias are a group that originally came from Latin America. According to the Denver Post, these lush-petaled asters love the summer heat. They bloom June through November in an array of fruity hues from deep, dark pink to honeydew green.

2. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Tolerant of poor soils and dry weather, this heat-resistant plant shows only minimal leaf-wilt under even the most arid conditions, according to Ohio State University. Bright green, hairy stems contrast with pink-lavender blooms and a central grouping of red-brown disc flowers make this species at once colorful and understated.

3. Blanket Flower (Gaillardia species)

According to The Spruce, blanket flowers are native to the southernmost parts of North America. Their name describes their slow spread from a single individual to a ‘blanket’ of ground cover. Fond of well-drained soil and full sun, this heat-resistant group of flowers flourish in hot weather.

4. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia species)

Black-eyed Susan’s are defined by their goldenrod ray flowers that stretch out from a central dark-brown cone of disc flowers. These unmistakable asters self-seed in full sun. They need soil temperatures of at least 70 degrees to germinate, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

5. Cosmos

Pairing a color range that rivals echinaceawith the delicate petals of a poppy, the cosmo is iconic among wildflowers. According to the American Meadows blog, cosmos strongly prefer full sun conditions and warm temperatures. Cosmos are, however, intolerant of intense heat and can benefit from partial or temporary shade throughout the day.

6. “Hawaiian Blue” Ageratum, or Floss Flower

According to SFGate, this Latin-American native relishes dry soil and full sun. Plant this variety of floss flower for a splash of shy, cool color among the bold, warm-colored blooms typical of many summer garden blooms.

4 – Pollinator Favorites For Your Garden

With brilliant colors, irregular floral shapes and delicate foliage, these pollinator plants will bring bees, butterflies and beauty to your garden. While less heat-resistant species retire their blooms until spring, these flowering gems will burst into full glory at the height of summer.

1. Egyptian Star Cluster (Pentas lanceolata)

Native to east Africa, these perennials grow in vibrant pink clusters of five-petaled flowers. Their fuzzy green leaves are bright green on top and almost silvery underneath, supported by thin, woody stems. Pentas flowers attract butterflies throughout their long bloom season, according to The Spruce.

2. Lantanas

According to Southern Living, lantana is a favorite with butterflies. Native to the tropics of Africa and the Americas, this flowering shrub stays green the entire year. It also attracts hummingbird traffic while it blooms throughout the warmer part of the year, according to Sunset.

3. Penstemons

This diverse group boasts pink to purple trumpet-shaped flowers that open wide to welcome bees and hummingbirds into your garden. According to Garden Design, penstemons are ideal for supporting a wide range of pollinators through summer’s long days of sunlight. Plentiful in both pollen and nectar, these gorgeous plants are sure to add flare, and attract wildlife, to any garden.

4. Liatris Blazing Star, or Gayfeather

Blazing star flowers is characterized by feathery, purple floral spikes and thin, grass-like foliage. This late-season bloom is able to support pollinators through the hottest months into autumn, according to the Gardening Channel.

3 – Heat-Resistant Plants with Showy Flora

Hailing from all over the midline of the globe, these equatorial splendors blaze back with color at the sun beats down on them.

1. Madagascar Periwinkle (Vinca species)

Hailing from southern Africa, this five-petaled flower is perhaps most heat-resistant plant you can add to your garden. According to How Stuff Works, Madagascar periwinkle comes in hues ranging from white to deep purple. Another versatile quality of this plant is that it stands up well to humidity as well as intense heat.

2. Celosia

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, over 40 celosia species are native to regions throughout Mexico. It’s fiery orange to purple spikes make them an eye-catching addition to any garden. Like many of its relatives in the Amaranth family, celosia is self-seeding and does well even in poor or rocky soils.

3. Waxed Begonia

This Brazilian native handles heat and humidity with similar fortitude as the Madagascar periwinkle. A thick, waxy coating on its leaves and bright petal coloration protect it from the harsh rays of the sun while a woody stem keeps it from losing vigor under humid conditions. This incredible ground cover prefers full sun to even the most partial shade, according to Gardener’s Path.

3 – Heat-Resistant Plants That Grow Into Shrubs

Heat-resistant shrubs are vital for providing shade to less tolerant species. Choose from these exposure-equipped plants to guard your garden during those bright summer afternoons.

1. Viburnum Shrubs

Common throughout Africa’s Atlas Mountains, viburnum species also do well throughout North America. Subtly hairy leaves, white flower clusters and striking red to black berries are the hallmarks of this group of heat-resistant plants, according to the Fine Gardening blog. Species in this group grow between four and 15 feet high, enabling them to provide life-saving shade to neighboring plants.

2. Sage Tree (Salvia arborescens)

According to the National Gardening Association, the sage tree can reach heights of 12 feet and does quite well in full sun. It is also attractive to hummingbirds and flowers in the late part of the growing season. Sage trees can be a saving grace to plants that need partial shade, as well as pollen-seeking wildlife, in the late summer and early autumn.

3. Yucca

This desert native is basically indestructible. Some yucca species can withstand high-heat, freezing temperatures and even wildfire. According to SFGate, yucca does best in full sun and well-drained soils. There are varieties and species suited to every soil type, and therefore, every Bay Area garden!

* Plants recommended may vary by location and time of year. Contact your local SummerWinds Nursey for availability or substitution.

How To Incorporate Heat-Resistant Plants Into An Established Garden

Gardens are intricate ecosystems that often have a strong aesthetic value as well. Follow these five easy steps to decide where and how to introduce heat-resistant plants into your existing garden.

  • Supplement areas of exposure or seasonal die-off with heat-tolerant species.
  • Diversify each planted area in your garden with a mix of full-sun and partial-shade plants.
  • Watch where the sun hits your garden throughout the day.
  • Use heat-resistant plants to shade more sensitive species which face exposure risk.
  • Add heat-resistant plants where you want more variety in color or foliage type.

Consult The Experts At SummerWinds

If you have questions about how to keep your garden blooming all year long, come in and ask one of our gardening experts! Visit us at any of our three California locations, or keep an eye on our class schedule for more garden inspiration.

About SummerWinds Nursery: SummerWinds Garden Centers is a leading high-end retailer of garden and nursery products. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, SummerWinds operates retail nurseries in the Silicon Valley, California and the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, making it one of the largest independent retail nursery companies in the west. SummerWinds appeals to both the serious and casual gardeners, with a broad selection of premium gardening products and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Be Inspired Blog – California The Best Plants to Handle California’s Summertime Heat Posted on: August 09, 2019 Summers in California’s Mediterranean climate are stressful for garden plants

10 Top Native Plants for Northern California Gardens

Enjoy a fuss-free, water-wise garden by growing plants naturally in tune with the climate and wildlife of Northern California

California Lilac
(Ceanothus spp)
Native across North America from southern Canada to Guatemala in dry ridges and slopes, in many plant communities below 10,000 feet

The deep cobalt-blue to delicate powder-blue flowers of California lilac dance with pollinators in the early spring, while the dark foliage stays evergreen throughout the year. There are a number of species, cultivars and hybrids of California lilac to choose from, including ground covers, medium-size shrubs, large shrubs and extra-large shrubs. My personal favorites are ‘Dark Star’ and ‘Julia Phelps’, which are large shrubs with tiny textured leaves; the robust ground cover ‘Yankee Point’; and the tree-like ‘Ray Hartman’, which quickly grows to 10 to 20 feet tall. Ceanothus requires excellent drainage, and most species want no summer water once established.

See how to grow ceanothus

Parry Manzanita
(Arctostaphylos manzanita)
Native to California chaparral, grasslands and woodlands from Mount Diablo north to Humboldt and Shasta counties; as with many manzanita species, Parry manzanita will perform well in gardens in all zones except deserts and high mountains

Manzanitas burst forth with delicate white urn-shaped flowers early in the season, sharing their nectar with hummingbirds and early pollinators as a sweet reminder that all is well in winter and early spring. Small apple-like fruits appear after the bloom, attracting songbirds and other critters; the fruit also makes a delicious manzanita cider.

Group m anzanitas to create a large screen or a naturalistic grove that provides cover for wildlife, or plant an impressive single specimen. Plant it on a sunny, well-drained slope or mound it where it will get infrequent to no summer water once established. With its characteristic deep red peeling bark and sculptural branches, Parry manzanita slowly grows to 10 to 12 feet tall and wide. It is a handsome and rugged evergreen that will add drama to any low-water garden.

See how to grow Parry manzanita

Oregon Grape
(Mahonia aquifolium)
From many plant communities in California and some regions in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia and northern Mexico. (Prohibited in Michigan due to black stem rust.)

This easy, colorful evergreen provides nectar for pollinators and a bounty of fruit for songbirds. Doing best in full sun on the coast and partial shade inland, Oregon grape is not a grape at all. Its clusters of berries change from green to blush, ripening to deep purple to imitate its namesake.

The plumes of bright yellow spring flowers and colorful summer berries could be enough for this drought-tolerant plant to be a great garden selection. But its colorful fall foliage — which it holds on to — makes Oregon grape a must-have for low-water landscapes.

Use Oregon grape in a hedge or as a specimen or an accent. It g rows to 3 to 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, spreading slowly.

Redtwig Dogwood
(Cornus sericea, syn. Cornus stolonifera)
Native in many plant communities throughout California, except deserts, on stream banks and in moist places

As a classic woodland plant in full sun or shade, dogwoods are best known for their elegant creamy-white flower clusters on outstretched branches with bright green leaves. Redtwig dogwood adds a twist. Awakening in spring, blooming in summer and fruiting soon after, redtwig dogwood then becomes ablaze in scarlet leaves from summer to fall, only to drop its leaves to reveal fiery red stems from fall through winter.

The berries of redtwig dogwood attract songbirds and other wildlife, while its flowers are a special treat for butterflies. Redtwig dogwood is not drought tolerant and does better sited next to a natural spring or waterway, rather than receiving irrigation every 10 to 14 days. It grows to 7 to 9 feet tall and up to 12 feet wide.

Western Redbud
(Cercis occidentalis)
Native to many plant communities in Northern California, the Sierras, the San Joaquin Valley and the extreme southwest of California to Utah and Arizona, including slopes, canyons and ravines next to streams or springs

Western redbud’s showstopper pink to magenta flowers sprout from deciduous branches after a long winter’s sleep; its heart-shaped leaves follow. Add these lovely attributes to western redbud’s vase-like shape, large cinnamon seedpods and gray winter bark, and you have an expressive shrub to small tree through all four seasons.

Sometimes slow to become established, western redbud requires well-drained soil. It does best with full sun and, once established, with water every two weeks. Yet western redbud can also tolerate partial shade and some drought. Reaching anywhere from 3 to 15 feet tall and wide, it can be used as a screen or specimen. Western redbud shares its delectable nectar with hummingbirds, native bees and other pollinators. Plant it with blue-flowering ceanothus for a stunning spring display.

Blue Elderberry
(Sambucus nigra ssp caerulea)
Native through much of California to New Mexico in canyons, valleys and open places in many plant communities; prefers moist riparian habitats

Extremely fast growing and easy, blue elderberry is one of the best shrubs for songbirds. Many bird species are attracted to its tasty fall berries that appear dark blue from the powder coating. Pretty, lacy umbels of creamy flowers emerge in summer, followed by fruit. Although it can be drought tolerant once established, blue elderberry grows best next to a natural waterway or spring. If irrigation is necessary once it’s established, every two weeks during the summer is ideal.

Blue elderberry can reach up to 20 to 25 feet tall but is 8 to 15 feet tall in most gardens. It will do well in partial shade but is most productive in full sun. Use blue elderberry as a hedge, screen, windbreak, large shrub or small multitrunk tree.

Yarrow
(Achillea millefolium)
Common throughout California, except in deserts; also native to many temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Asia, Europe and North America

Yarrow is another workhorse in the garden, attracting lots of good bugs while also repelling bad bugs; it’s an excellent plant for habitat and vegetable gardens. Its long-blooming umbels of fresh white flowers — and ones in a variety of other colors — call to mind a wildflower meadow. Yarrow’s fern-like foliage appears delicate yet is tough enough to be mowed as a lawn alternative. It’s h ighly variable in height, from 6 inches to 3 feet.

For those in California most interested in using local natives, choose from naturally occurring selections of the California form, including ‘Rosy Red’, ‘Island Pink’ (shown), ‘King Range’, ‘Sonoma Coast’, ‘Shell Beach’, ‘Point Cabrillo’ and ‘Calistoga’ with gray foliage. Use yarrow in a meadow, as a slope stabilizer or lawn alternative, or in a habitat or vegetable garden.

Although native to many parts of the world, yarrow can be invasive in some regions. It is best to select plants native to your region.

Naked Buckwheat
(Eriogonum nudum)
Native in many plant communities throughout California and parts of Nevada, Oregon and Washington

Naked buckwheat’s large clusters of delicate creamy-white flowers bloom from spring through summer, feeding a circus of native bees, butterflies and other pollinators with its choice nectar and high-protein pollen. It’s wonderful in a perennial bed or in drifts. Be sure to site naked buckwheat where you can enjoy the wild and kooky show put on by summer pollinators.

Reliable and spritely, naked buckwheat requires full sun and well-drained soil. Once it’s established, water it once a month or not at all. With 3- to 6-inch basal leaves, its naked stems shoot up above the foliage for a mature bloom size of 2 to 5 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide.

California Wild Rose
(Rosa californica)
Native throughout California, except for the High Cascade Range and the High Sierra Nevada, g enerally in moist areas and stream banks

Given the fragrance, elegance and ease of native California roses, it’s surprising they aren’t used in gardens more often. Best planted next to a spring or natural waterway, Rosa californica is particularly easy to grow. Give it at least a half day of sun, a natural waterway or irrigation every two to four weeks, and California wild rose will not only provide charming flowers, it will also attract birds and wildlife to its protective branches year-round and to its nutritious rose hips during winter.

Give California wild rose plenty of space to form a thicket. Due to its thorns, it makes a great barrier. It n eeds full sun on the coast and full sun to partial shade inland.

Globe Gilia
(Gilia capitata)
Native throughout California and north to British Columbia and Idaho, growing on slopes in many plant communities

A long-blooming spring annual, globe gilia is a must for pollinator and butterfly gardens. Planted in full sun and in drifts of at least 3 ½ by 3 ½ feet, it becomes a neon sign calling all the native bees, butterflies and other pollinators for a feast of its yummy nectar. Although it does best in full sun with a drink every couple of weeks, it also does well with no water and even in partial shade.

Use globe gilia with perennials or other native annuals. Reaching from 6 inches to 2 feet tall and wide, globe gilia is a reliable self-sower and returns year after year.

Enjoy a fuss-free, water-wise garden by growing plants naturally in tune with the climate and wildlife of Northern California