Many people find summertime in Florida to be wet, miserably hot, and uncomfortable. If you’re a gardener here, you’re hot too, but also thrilled by this period of luxuriant sub-tropical growth that the fleeing snowbirds miss out on. After a long spring drought period, the onset of summer rains and warmth means your garden plants are off like powerful greyhounds bounding out of the gate! Who says plants don’t move?
For a lush garden look, there is no color better than green. In a rainforest or tropical island paradise, the primary color is a rich green. Within that context we find different shades of green, and a huge variety of leaf textures - the hallmark of a tropical garden. These bold textures are out of reach for temperate gardeners: plants like palms, bananas, and aroids (i.e. Philodendron). This cool tapestry is accented with splashes of color, both flowers and colorful foliage. In Florida, gardeners are demanding more and more color in their landscapes, much of it provided by beds of annual flowers. But as summer wears on, these plants wither, and many gardens experience a “color deficiency” and fade to green. With some forethought and planning, you can enjoy garden color during the hottest months, too.
Annual beds can still be a good choice for bold color, but you need to select plants carefully. Rot is a major problem with these soft plants during our rainy summers. Make sure your beds drain well after a deluge; raise them or amend (or replace) the soil if they don’t. Spider mites can be a real problem on plants like marigolds (Tagetes spp.), Verbena, and blue daze (Evolvulus glomeratus); because mites are so difficult to control, I would avoid these plants. For summer flowers try Pentas, Florida pansy or wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri), purslane (Portulaca oleracea), dwarf crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii), and black-eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) shows off its pink and white flowers in the summer, look for “naturalized” colonies to collect seed or cuttings, or purchase the fungus resistant ‘Nirvana’ series. Colorful foliage is another way to introduce strong color to a garden, and Coleus is an oldie-but-goodie. Perennials can provide summer bedding color for several years, try Caladium (remember that they go dormant in winter and can be overplanted with winter annuals), Lantana, bromeliads like Neoregelia, and spreading purple queen (Tradescantia pallida).
The best summer color can be added to landscapes with shrubs. Like special troops, they vigilantly stand guard in the background all winter, and then mount a colorful assault in the summer heat. And best of all, you don’t need to constantly replant them! Many sub-tropical shrubs grow easily in Florida, here is a selection of some of the most reliable performers: Allamanda, chenille plant (Acalypha hispida), thryallis (Galphimia glauca), Hibiscus, Ixora, Jatropha, oleander (Nerium oleander), golden shrimp plant (Pachystachys lutea), Plumbago, firecracker plant (Rusellia equisetiformis), and king’s mantle (Thunbergia erecta). For vibrant variegated foliage consider copperleaf (Acalypha wilkensiana), snowbush (Breynia disticha), croton (Codaium variegatum), ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa), and Sanchezia as well as variegated forms of other shrubs.
Add even more vivid summer color to your gardens with flowering vines and trees. Tropical trees can be spectacular in full bloom, look for royal poinciana (Delonix regia), crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), and copperpod (Peltophorum spp.) Vines such as Allamanda, white bleeding heart (Clerodendrum thomsoniae), morning glory (Ipomoea spp.), and passion flower (Passiflora spp.), can light up tree trunks, fences, and arbors. The plants I have mentioned in this article are only mere sampler from the flamboyant palette of summer color you can choose for your yard. For more ideas, check out Pamela Crawford’s book, Best Garden Color for Florida. Be risqué and add some hot steamy color to your garden!