Sun-loving, Heat-tolerant Plants

No Sunscreen Needed for These Summer-Loving and Drought-Tolerant Perennials and Annuals

It’s hard to believe, but the season of flip-flops and butterflies is here at last, and it’s time to get those summer flowers going!

We’re lucky here in USDA Zones 6a (to -10°F in winter) and 6b (to -5°F in winter) to have a fairly long growing season and thus a pretty good range of planting options. But still, some plants thrive where others might merely survive – that is, they might grow and bloom, but not perform quite as well as they would in slightly cooler or warmer climates. And beyond that, there are other plants that might need a little more care, for example, more watering, to put on their best show.

With all this in mind, we’ve put together a few ideas for sun-worshipping perennials and annuals that will bring color and life to Ohio gardens on even the hottest summer days.

Know your terms: Perennial plants grow back year after year, while annual plants need to be replaced or re-sown from seed each spring.

Perennial Sun-Lovers

There are hundreds of perennial species and sub-species, and we’re happy to talk through our carefully selected options with you. Until then, here’s a short list of Zone 6 perennial favorites:

  • Agastache – if you’re looking for scent, color, and pollinator-friendliness, consider Agastache or another relative in the Hyssop family. These plants are technically part of the mint “tribe,” but not necessarily minty in scent; some smell more like licorice, and others smell completely different. Agastache’s spikes of purple flowers are great sources of nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies, and their silvery undersides of their leaves are beautiful on breezy days.
  • Bee Balm (Monarda) – another great addition to pollinator gardens, bee balm tends to grow quite tall, up to four feet, so it’s a dramatic “backdrop” plant. While it does really well in the sun, bee balm needs good air circulation and not too much humidity, so be sure to allow several feet between plants and don’t overwater it. Different varieties offer deep red, bright red, pink, and lavender blooms, and the foliage smells heavenly.
  • Bellflowers (Campanula) – No cottage garden is complete without the delicate blooms of bellflowers. And there really is a variety for every taste. Close to the ground and spreading for rock gardens and borders, clustering or tall for cutting gardens and building walls – you’ll find one that rings your chimes. Bellflowers come in a huge range of colors and, depending on the variety, can also tolerate part shade, making them a good choice for variable light.
  • Coneflowers (Echinacea) – Another “can’t do without” plant in our books is the Coneflower. Blooming from June to October, these striking daisy-cousins just keeping coming back year after year, growing larger and more impressive every year. Coneflowers can grow up to 4 feet in height and width, so plan ahead. Their flowers can be as wide as eight inches across, making them a spectacular choice for grand-scale flower arrangements. Bumblebees adore coneflowers, and their color range is huge.
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis) – We could write an entire article – or two, or ten! – on daylilies. Every color, size, and variety you can imagine, in a plant that comes back reliably year after year. Daylilies love the sun, and once established, make excellent landscaping plants, too. Everything looks better with daylilies!

Annual Sun-Lovers

They may be a bit more work than perennials, but the astonishing variety of annuals makes them well worth the effort. They’re especially nice for adding some experimentation in your garden as you wait for perennials to establish themselves.

  • Cosmos (Coreopsidae) – Growing to about 12 inches in height with feathery foliage and blooms in colors including red, yellow, white, and lavender, cosmos are perfect long-flowering plants for that “middle range” between ground covering plants and tall ones. Cosmos are generally quite drought-tolerant, too.
  • Floss flower (Ageratum) – Pink, purple, blue, white, and even some varieties in red: floss flowers look like pompons of silken thread. They grow between six and 24 inches tall and create a lovely impressionistic texture that will bloom well into the fall.
  • Prairie Gentian (Lisianthus or Listoma) – slower to start, but absolutely spectacular native North American plants with pink, purple, or white flowers that are almost rose-like in appearance, and gorgeous as cut flowers or in arrangements. Lisianthus is a perennial in warmer zones, but not in Zone 6.
  • Marigold – if there’s one plant that sings “summer!” it’s the marigold. One of the most popular flowers in gardening history, marigolds bloom from late spring until fall, and are beneficial for insect management. Seasoned gardeners often plant marigolds around vegetable beds to encourage pollinators and discourage pests.
  • Pentas plant (Pentas Lanceolata) – in warmer climates, this is actually a shrub that can grow year-round (and to enormous sizes), but here it’s a beautiful annual. Tiny red, hot pink, pale pink, and white flowers grow in clusters that have earned them the nickname “Egyptian stars.” They do well in containers, and if you can bring the containers indoors during the winter, you’ll be happy come spring!
  • Sunflower (Helianthus) – Ah, the noble sunflower. Friend of bees in the summer, and friend of birds in winter. While the giants can grow more than six feet tall, the smaller varieties are not to be overlooked!

Special Mention: Drought-Tolerant Varieties

During a drought, watering can be difficult, or even unsustainable. Most sun-loving species can take the dry that comes with the heat, but some do particularly well during drought and dry spells (to a point, of course – everything needs water eventually!).

  • False Indigo (Baptisia, Perennial) – once established, Baptisia is a very tough plant that also tolerates partial shade. Different varieties offer colors ranging from pinkish to a very deep purple.
  • Big Bluestem Prairie Grass (Andropogon, Perennial) – While it doesn’t flower, this native grass makes an excellent ornamental or privacy screen, and the seedheads are beautiful after a rain.
  • Penstemon (Perennial) – Sometimes also called “Beardtongue,” penstemon varieties come in a huge range of colors and sizes, with some types growing nearly six feet tall, making them great for that endlessly-sunny corner: in fact, the sunnier, the better for penstemon. Hummingbirds and butterflies love their tall stalks of small, chalice-shaped flowers.
  • Ornamental Onion (Allium – Perennial) – Unique round flowering heads made up of hundreds of tiny purple, white, blue or yellow flowers attract birds and bees. Allium is started from bulbs.
  • Yarrow (Achillea – Perennial) – Achillea comes in a variety of colors and can grow quite tall, up to four feet. It thrives in well-drained soil and sunny locations, and is incredibly easy to grow.
  • Thrift (Armeria Maritima) – Low-growing, spreading plants with masses of pink flowers, thrift or “False Sea Pink” is great for containers, sunny rock gardens, or between walkway pavers.
  • Zinnia (annual) – Nothing will lift your heart after a long hot day like coming home to a cheerful patch of zinnias. Vera Bradley couldn’t come up with better color combinations than zinnias offer, and once they start blooming, they put on a spectacular show that’s practically care-free!

As always, Berns is ready to help with advice and plants grown to thrive in Ohio landscapes – plus all the supplies you’ll need. Just stop by our Middletown or Beavercreek locations, or give us a call!

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