Summer can be prime time to seed heat-loving plants

There’s no doubt about it: These are the dog days of summer.

After a relatively cool Saturday, with a projected high of 88 degrees, temperatures are expected to climb to the low-90s locally beginning Monday. Earlier this month, Claremonters sweltered during a number of days that saw temperatures reaching 100 degrees or higher.

What’s an amateur gardening aficionado to do in this kind of heat wave?

It might seem we should shy away from planting for a while, limiting our efforts to hydrating our thirsty pre-existing foliage. But according to Vicky Perez, a nursery professional at Armstrong Garden Center in Claremont, there are plenty of warm-weather options for those hoping to sew a bit of beauty.

She recommends starting with heat-loving summer annuals like yellow and orange marigolds and citrus-hued zinnias. Both of these thrive in full sun and add a crayon-bright touch of color to your garden. Ms. Perez notes these flowers have some staying power, and are likely to last through November.

Vinca is another annual that does well in full sun, according to Ms. Perez. If you plant a vinca—a variety marked by dark, glossy green foliage and white, pink, purple or red flowers—now, it’s likely to continue to bloom until December.

There are also a variety of pretty perennials that are quite comfortable in this weather. These include a number of plants Armstrong’s has dubbed “California bloomers,” such as hardy geraniums, whose blossoms can come in a multiplicity of hues. Other plants in this category include the African daisy, in which purple is a popular shade, and the lovely white Shasta daisy.

Are you looking for a pretty hanging plant that will flower rather than wilt as temperatures continue to rise? Ms. Perez recommends a cascading plant with white or purple flowers called bacopa. These, and all of the plants mentioned are available at Armstrong’s in Claremont.

Shade-preferring perennials that thrive when the mercury rises include a pretty, sweet-smelling creeper called glechoma. While the plant doesn’t flower, Ms. Perez says the green leaves cascade prettily when displayed in window baskets or hanging pots.

You might think that, when it comes to vegetables, you’ve missed the growing season. Not so, said Ms. Perez. You can still pick up zucchinis, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes at Armstrong’s or other garden centers and plant them. These favorites take 52 days to mature from planting to harvest. Since they’ve already been started by the store’s supplies, and since there are still many more hot days to come, you can expect to be harvesting your veggies by October.

If you’re fond of herbs, you can grow mint year-round. Ms. Perez recommends growing mint in containers because it is an aggressive plant that, if you let it, will take over your garden. Chewing mint leaves is a good breath-freshener, and can alleviate minor stomach ailments like indigestion. Fragrant lavender is another herb that can be planted this time of year. Don’t over-water this drought-tolerant plant, though, the nursery professional advises, or it will contract a virus.

Of course, all sorts of succulents still look great on the hottest of days. Don’t water them in the middle of the day, though, Ms. Perez warns, or they will get spots.

In a sustainability-minded town like Claremont, it would be remiss not to mention some of the California natives are appropriate to plant this time of year. Some have the added plus of attracting charming visitors. This includes yarrow, a favorite haunt of butterflies, and fuzzy kangaroo paw plants, which will draw hummingbirds to your garden.

If you love these tiny iridescent birds—which can, surprisingly, reach speeds up to 34 mph—you can also plant other native and drought-tolerant offerings like salvia greggi and tubular-blossomed penstemons. 

You might think after working with plants all day, Ms. Perez would shy away from at-home gardening.

That’s simply not the case. In the backyard at her Fontana home, she has a small, raised-bed garden featuring vivid gerbera daisies and marigolds flanked by date palms. In the porch near her front yard, she has planted shade-loving tropicals like variegated spider plants and flame-colored bromeliads.

She also tends some favorite trees, including ponytail palms, and shrubs like gardenias. A bit of a romantic, Ms. Perez says she likes to tuck a fragrant gardenia in the band of her hat.

Like many Californians, who enjoy conditions that are favorable to growing year round, she finds great satisfaction in tending her garden.

“I really enjoy when I can see the difference from when I first get the plant,” she said. “I see that they are growing beautifully and it means that I’m doing good—that I have a green thumb.”

 —Sarah Torribio


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