By the end of summer, many plants have grown tired of providing blooms for our garden. Sometimes it can be a challenge to find plants that will fill in this difficult time with flowers. A diligent gardener can find quite a few plants that bloom in late summer.
You’re probably familiar with Black-eyed Susan and Butterfly Bushes, providing the garden with blossoms this time of year no matter how hot it gets, attracting butterflies by the hundreds. You’ve seen Japanese Honeysuckle on the side of the road, or perhaps you’re even plagued with its invasive qualities in your own garden.
But have you seen our native Red Trumpet Honeysuckle? Lonicera sempervirens is a non-invasive evergreen vine that blooms almost year round, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, and many other beneficial insects. Grow it as a groundcover, let it climb an arbor or trellis, or train it to cover a fence. You’ll be rewarded with blooms from spring to fall, and I’ve even seen blooms on mine in December! It will grow in sun or shade, but flowers more profusely in full sun.
For the shade, try Lobelia cardinalis, our native red Cardinal Flower, loved by hummingbirds. This perennial prefers moist soil, but can be grown in regular garden soil with supplemental water.
If you have a woodland garden, try the beautiful Plumleaf Azalea, an American native azalea made famous by Callaway Gardens. Rhododendron prunifolium is a rare deciduous azalea with bright red blooms in late July and August. Plumleaf Azalea prefers a cool shady spot with regular water.
Perennial hibiscus continues to offer up showy blooms in several colors right up until the onset of cold weather. There are many hybrid forms of our native perennial hibiscus, but my favorite is Hibiscus coccineus, often referred to as Swamp Hibiscus or Texas Star Hibiscus. It has attractive foliage in addition to the beautiful flowers. When I look at the blooms, it's hard for me to believe that instead of coming from Hawaii, this plant is a native of the Southeast!
And for a little later on in the season, consider adding Swamp Sunflower, a good companion for perennial hibiscus, since they both share a love for sun and water. Helianthus blooms in September with large, bright yellow flowers on tall stems up to 10 feet tall! I hope you’ll try some of my suggestions in your late summer garden as you strive to make your garden more beautiful year round.
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When many people see an insect, the first impulse is to kill it. But not all insects are pests, and many are beneficial insects, meaning they do good things like eat harmful insects and pollinate flowers. When we use pesticides to control insect pests, we also kill the good bugs. You probably already know Ladybugs are beneficial insects, feeding on aphids, scales, and mealybugs. But did you know that the larvae of ladybugs look like tiny little alligators and eat even more pests than their parents? Lacewings are fragile-looking insects with delicate, lacy green or brown wings, large eyes, and long antennae. Their larvae feed on aphids, scales, mealybugs, whiteflies, and young caterpillars. The Praying Mantis will eat almost any insect (yes, they will eat the good bugs too and will even eat each other!) Parasitic Wasps are usually too small for you to see, but you might spot signs of their presence. If you find a crispy-looking brown, inflated aphid attached to a leaf, it was probably the victim of a parasitic wasp that laid its eggs in the aphid so its offspring would have something to eat when they hatched. You might also see caterpillars, cabbage loopers or hornworms carrying around cocoons of developing wasps. Parasitic Wasps lay their eggs on the back of soft caterpillars so their young will have a convenient food source upon hatching. (Yuck!) It’s almost time to see the Tomato Hornworm eating up the leaves and even the green tomatoes on our tomato plants. The best control is to pick them off and destroy them, but if you see one with loads of small white things that look like clusters of rice, just leave it alone—the white things are eggs of the wasp. Granddaddy Spiders, or you might call them Daddy Longlegs, eat aphids, mites, and other garden pests. These are just a few of the many beneficial insects in our gardens. Beneficial insects can be purchased from mail-order sources, but you can attract them into your garden without purchasing them. The best way to attract these beneficial insects to your garden is to just plant more flowers and herbs!
Oakleaf Hydrangea is my favorite hydrangea, because it’s beautiful in every season! In winter, the branches exhibit lovely cinnamon colored exfoliating bark, and the large flower buds already forming are attractive. In spring, the new leaves are a reddish purple. In summer, there are the very large panicles of white blooms that turn purplish by summer’s end, hanging on into fall. In fall, the leaves turn a rich mahogany red, contrasting beautifully with the then dried rosy brown flower stalks used by many in floral arrangements. Oakleaf hydrangea is one of our most beautiful American native shrubs, and should be in every garden, especially native plant gardens! Hydrangea quercifolia is much easier to grow than other hydrangeas. The fact that it is native to the southeastern United States is probably the reason for that. It’s accustomed to our summer droughts, making it more drought-tolerant than other hydrangeas. It isn’t picky about soil. And oakleaf hydrangea can take more sun than most other hydrangeas. And I believe it really is true that you learn something every day, because, although you might already know this, I didn't realize until this year as I passed our largest shrub that the Oakleaf Hydrangea is fragrant!
Getting the garden ready for a hot Georgia summer can be easier than you think!
Plant selection is most important—choose plants you know will thrive in your area. Planting trees, shrubs, and perennials native to your climate zone means less work for you, because native plants are accustomed to the difficult conditions our Georgia summers offer. They are better able to withstand our drought, and some native plants even prefer our muggy, humid temperatures!
Always amend the soil with compost or composted manure. Plants are better able to tolerate harsh conditions when they have good soil in which to live.
Don’t overlook the importance of mulch. Apply a thick layer of organic mulch such as straw, bark chips, or shredded leaves to conserve moisture, keep the plant roots cool, and prevent weed growth. Gravel mulch is not suitable for our climate, except in a cactus garden, because it heats up too much in the summer.
Finally, if your budget allows, install a soaker hose or drip irrigation watering system. This will get the water down to the roots where it’s needed with less water waste.