Flowers for the Dog Days of Summer


In late July through August, my garden runs on its own like a family of ten kids. I’ll give the vegetables a drink if it’s parched, but my time is limited so any flowers that thrive must love the heat and dry conditions. I have come to respect these tough nuggets and encourage you to try some in your sweltering garden. There is still time to get them going (with a little watering) for color that lasts into fall.

The first flower to come to mind is the yellow cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus), a self-seeding annual. I know it’s not fancy with its reputation as a roadside flower, but it brightens corners all over my garden with its feathery foliage and yellow to orange flowers. It can range from one to five feet tall. There are only a few plants that I trouble myself to gather and save seed from, and cosmos is one of them (larkspur, love in a mist and poppies are the others). Maybe I wouldn’t even need to collect seed, but I just want to make sure I have plenty to sling around when I’m in post springtime depression.

photo by Jeana Myers

Lantana (Lantana camara) is another matriarch of the summer heat. I have grown the perennial ‘Miss Huff’ in the garden for many years now, and I never cease to be amazed at how huge—five feet wide by August—and beautiful she becomes with zero attention. Other than a total cutback of last years’ growth in late spring, ‘Miss Huff’ only gets a nod in her direction the rest of the year. This plant also comes as an annual in a variety of colors, so read the tags carefully.

Tough should be the salvia’s middle name because it can take whatever gets dished out in our sunny, hot summers. My Salvia microphylla is two to three feet tall with a shrubby nature and lives up to its ‘Hot Lips’ name, bearing tons of white and red flowers that the insects hover around all summer long. As the branches lay on the ground and root, I expand my plantings around the garden. This year I added ‘Black and Blue’ anise sage (Salvia guaranitica), which has rich blue flowers hummingbirds love!

I once put a mix of an evergreen rosette Salvia, Verbena canadensis and Lavender stoechas in a raised brick flower bed at my son’s school, along with Artemesia, lambsquarters and rosemary as companions. It was a gorgeous and long-lasting display even though it was neglected throughout the summer.

photo by Jeana Myers

There are many other heat loving flowering perennials—coneflowers, butterfly bush, Black-eyed Susans, guara, veronicas, ice plants and liatris—that I have grown and loved. There are also annual vines like moonflowers and hyacinth beans that provide summer floral displays with minimal attention.

Give yourself a break this summer and choose a few low maintenance beauties for your garden. There will be plenty to do once the heat breaks and fall planting and cleanup kick into gear.

Jeana Myers, PhD, is the Horticulture Agent for Wake County. For gardening questions, contact the Extension Master Gardeners of Wake County at 919-250-1084 or email

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