Blue plumbago - pale blue flowers against a dark green background of leaves

Plants that Take the Heat and Fill Your Summer Garden with Color

Periwinkle or vinca (Catharanthus roseus) -- purple flowers bloom against tightly packed dark green leaves
The new Cora varieties of periwinkle or vinca (Catharanthus roseus) resist disease and bloom all summer long.

One of the major goals of gardening in Texas is finding colorful, high-performing plants that add drama to our summer landscapes and hold up to Texas heat. 

“Fortunately, there are many to choose from, including both perennials and annuals and both native and adapted plants,” says Sr. Horticulturist Steve Huddleston. “In fact, you might find you have more options that you realized.”

Huddleston suggests gardeners take a look at the following plants:

Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). Native to west Texas, red yucca is an evergreen plant with spineless, dark green leaves adorned with very fine marginal threads that resemble frayed rope. The leaves arch gracefully downward and form a mound about 3’ tall. From late March through the end of September, the plant sports coral-red stalks 4’-5’ tall that bear tubular, coral-red or yellow flowers full of nectar that invite the attention of hummingbirds. Red yucca prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It has an amazing tolerance for reflected heat, and for this reason does well near sidewalks, driveways, and patios. Red yucca makes an especially striking statement in a mass planting. It also looks great as an accent plant, makes a good container plant, and performs well around pools because it has no leaf drop and very little petal drop. It adds interesting form, texture, and color to the summer landscape. Look for a new variety named ‘Brakelights.’ Its mature size is 2’ by 2’, and it sports true red flowers that, as the name implies, resemble the color of red brake lights. 

Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus). Hardy hibiscus stands up to the heat of Texas summers and provides big splashes of bold color June through September. Three outstanding varieties are designated as Texas Superstar™ plants by the Texas A&M AgriLife Exension Service as being particularly well-suited to our climate. ‘Flare’ is a sterile hybrid that’s almost in constant bloom all summer. It grows 4’ tall and wide and has fuchsia-colored flowers 6” in diameter. ‘Lord Baltimore,’ also a sterile hybrid, sports stunning red flowers 7” in diameter and grows 5’ tall and wide. Finally, ‘Moy Grande’ grows 5’ tall and wide and produces rose-pink flowers 12” in diameter.

‘Brazilian Red Hots’ (Alternanthera dentata) bring a burst of color to your garden.

‘Brazilian Red Hots’ (Alternanthera dentata). Your garden will stop traffic with the annual Alternanthera dentata ‘Brazilian Red Hots.’ This relative of Joseph’s coat thrives in the heat and grows 18” tall and wide and sports garish, variegated foliage that is hot pink, purple, and burgundy. Plant this spectacular bedding plant in full sun and in moist but well-drained soil. It makes a great backdrop for Zinnia ‘Zahara Coral Rose’ or purple gomphrena.

Esperanza ‘Gold Star’ (Tecoma stans ‘Gold Star’). Also a Texas Superstar™ plant, esperanza ‘Gold Star’ is a heat-loving plant native to south Texas. Farther north, it must be treated as an annual. ‘Gold Star’ reaches a mature height of 3’-4’, sports beautiful green foliage, and covers itself with clusters of bright yellow, tubular flowers all summer long. ‘Gold Star’ does well in beds and containers and adds a tropical look to the patio or poolside. Look for the new varieties ‘Bells of Fire’ (burnt orange) and ‘Sierra Apricot’ (golden apricot). 

Firebush (Hamelia patens). Firebush is another Texas Superstar™ plant that thrives in Texas heat under full sun. This easy-care tropical bedding plant produces tubular, orange-red flowers that attract hummingbirds. It’s a root-hardy perennial in south Texas but must be treated as an annual farther north.  It grows 3’ tall and wide and blooms summer till frost.

Variegated tapioca (Manihot exculenta)
Variegated tapioca (Manihot esculenta) is a dramatic addition to the garden, and it loves the heat.

Variegated tapioca (Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’). Proving that not all color comes from flowers, variegated tapioca is a tropical foliage plant that rivals the color of any flower. This native of South America and another Texas Superstar™ plant has large, lobed leaves with green margins and creamy-yellow centers. It likes full to partial sun, grows 3’-4’ tall and wide, and kicks into high gear once it gets hot. Foliage is most colorful when grown in full sun. Plant this annual in beds or containers for a very tropical look and be amazed at how well it thrives in the heat. 

Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata). Still another Texas Superstar™ plant is plumbago, a native of South Africa. This tender perennial grows 3’-4’ tall and wide, produces profuse clusters of light blue, phlox-like flowers May until frost, and thrives in Texas’ summer heat. Its disease, pest, and deer resistance makes it an easy-care plant.

Periwinkle or vinca (Catharanthus roseus). Native to Madagascar, periwinkle, or vinca, relishes heat and produces an abundance of color all season long. Periwinkles of the past succumbed to a disease called aerial phytophthora, which made them shrivel and die. A new series of periwinkle called Cora is resistant to that disease. Even so, don’t plant until the soil temperature has warmed up and the heaviest of spring rains are over. This series comes in five colors: apricot, burgundy, lavender, deep lavender, violet, and white. The dark green, glossy foliage makes the perfect backdrop for the gorgeous flowers. Plant the Cora series of vinca in full sun and in raised beds for good drainage. The plants grow 14”-16” tall and 2’ wide.

“Use any or all of these high-performing plants and be amazed at the amount of color they lend to the landscape while holding up to the heat of Texas summers,” says Huddleston.

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