A weeklong heat wave — with temperatures hovering in the mid-90s most days — can wreak havoc on a garden. But some plants seem absolutely unfazed by the hot weather, still blooming strong and standing tall. Those are the plants we want in our gardens.
In general, native plants that are indigenous to the Northeast can take any sort of weather conditions you throw at them. They’re programmed to do well here and they rarely need much pampering. Plus they draw birds, butterflies and beneficial insects to your yard.
Here’s a look at five great plants that can take the heat.
Joe-pye weed. This native summer bloomer is a delight in any garden, especially one that leans toward the wild and woolly. Known botanically as Eupatorium, this tall, bold beauty comes into flower in mid- to late July, with mauve-pink blooms as big as your head.
(most of these are TJN file photos)
The flowers last for weeks, drawing a steady stream of butterflies and pollinators. Joe-pye adds a wonderful verticality to a garden, with stalks rising 8 to 12 feet into the air. Perfect for the back of any border. It likes wet spots and needs evenly moist, fairly rich soil to thrive. If it has plenty of moisture, it will tolerate a good deal of shade. Joe-pye weed is on many lists of deer-resistant plants, but they nibble at mine.
Butterfly bush. Here’s another great tough guy that blooms in the prime of July and August, when so many other plants go dormant. It’s also completely deer resistant in my garden — and it never needs extra water, even in the hottest of weather.
Known botanically as Buddleia, this honey-scented shrub comes in a many colors, including purple, pink, blue, white, lavender and crimson. Or try a new yellow one, ‘Sungold.’ The 10- to 18-inch flowering panicles emerge from long, arching branches that catch just about any passing breeze. Many of the branches will grow to 8 or 12 feet. The plants boast attractive silvery green leaves and branches that provide winter interest. Butterfly bushes like to be cut back hard in early spring, to 12 to 18 inches above the ground. Wait until you see signs of new growth emerging on the stalks.
Salvias. Anything in the sage family, whether annual or perennial, is tough, tough, tough. In my own full-sun salvia bed, I’ve never had a salvia that didn’t do well. Deer and rabbits leave them alone and they don’t seem to mind the vagaries of Hudson Valley weather.
Many salvias will give you a second round of flowers if you cut them back hard after the first bloom. Like other plants in the sage family, salvias prefer to be left standing during winter and then cut back at the first sign of growth in spring.
They thrive in hot, sunny weather — no need to water them all summer. Just give them well-drained soil so that they don’t rot in winter. Favorite varieties include “May Night,” “Phyllis’ Fancy” and “Ultra Violet.”
Sunflowers. As their name suggests, just about every variety of sunflower, whether annual or perennial, can take blasting heat and sun and come through just fine. Mexican sunflowers are a particular favorite of mine.
Known botanically as Tithonia rotundifolia, these heat-loving annuals will keep throwing out new flowers right until frost. The scarlet-orange blooms are about 3 inches wide and the plants will easily reach a height of 6 to 8 feet by the time fall arrives. They want absolutely full sun but otherwise are not fussy at all. Like cosmos, they will thrive in poor, dry soil and never seem to need any watering. If they’re in a windy spot or the stalks get too heavy to support the plant, you may need to stake them. Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds love these flowers, especially because not much else is in bloom when Mexican sunflowers are at their best.
Catmint. Known botanically as Nepeta, catmint is another low-maintenance perennial that can stand up to the heat. If you garden with deer in the Hudson Valley, you should be growing catmint. Deer hate its minty smell and stay away from it completely in my garden. You may even be able to keep deer away from some of their favorites — hostas, lilies, roses, impatiens — by surrounding them with plantings of catmint. Sometimes I make a nepeta tea with leftover cuttings and then add it to my 2-gallon jug of deer-repellent spray. Rabbits will also stay away from nepeta, yet it’s a magnet for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. And yes, cats, too.
(‘Walker’s Low’ nepeta, former Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association, photo by Steven Still/Perennial Plant Association)
The only absolute I’ve found in growing nepeta is that it wants full sun all day. It just doesn’t perform well in any kind of partial shade or filtered light. But it’s not fussy about garden soil, as long as it drains well. Nepeta is also easy to dig up and divide every few years. And once established, it’s completely drought-tolerant. It’s a long bloomer, too. I still have spiky purple flowers on plants that first came into bloom in early June. If the flowers fade and the plant begins to look tired in mid-summer, simply shear back the gray-green foliage and wait for new blooms to emerge in September.