Even in a tropical heat wave, there’s no reason that summer can’t be every bit as colorful and filled with flowers as springtime, especially with spicy colored, heat-loving flowers such as these. In fact, these perennials are so intense and spectacular that they might actually give your spring garden a run for its money! If your favorite flowers have stopped blooming in the grips of that summer heat, it’s time to bring in some tried and true tropical flowering perennials to your container... garden.
01 of 07
It used to be that lantanas (Lantana camara) available to gardeners were weedy and somewhat unkempt looking, but today’s garden center offers a better-behaved assortment of trailing hybrids and species perfectly suited to growing as ‘spillers’ in pots and hanging baskets. In addition to the more commonly found hybrids with red and yellow flowers, Lantana montevidensis (pictured) produces prolific lavender flowers on trailing stems. All lantanas are irresistible to butterflies; so much, in fact, that you might have a hard time getting a single photo of a full grown plant without finding a butterfly photo-bombing your shot. While lantanas are usually advertised as drought-tolerant plants for the garden, container-grown plants will wilt if the potting mix is allowed to dry out. Either treat them as annuals or try growing them in a sunny windowsill over winter. They are tricky as houseplants because they love humidity, but will easily rebound when planted back outdoors in spring.
02 of 07
It might be the first flower you think of when someone says ‘tropical’ or ‘summer’, but there’s more to the hibiscus family than your classic garden variety red Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and each of these plants will thrive in the dog days of summer like hula girls at a luau. ‘Haight Ashbury’ is grown just as much for its finely divided burgundy leaves (think Japanese maple) as it is for its matching burgundy flowers. ‘Snow Queen’ is popular for its variegated white, pink and green leaves, but the delicate coralline flowers are as impressive as any red hibiscus you’ll see. Each variety has a nice upright habit, making them excellent as centerpieces and focal points in the container garden. Just be sure to give full-grown and arching specimens a little bit of support by inserting garden stakes in the container’s potting mix and loosely tie a loop of string around both the stem and the plant. If you choose to keep hibiscus plants indoors through winter, be advised that they are very difficult to successfully grow indoors and are best kept in a greenhouse or sunny bathroom where they can get ample humidity.
03 of 07
With sage green, velvety leaves and frequent bursts of intense red puffballs of flowers throughout the year, Bottlebrush has to be my all-time favorite flowering shrub – particularly the dwarf selection known as ‘Little John’ (pictured). Most bottlebrushes (Callistemon species) are ideal for training as small trees in containers but ‘Little John’ stays so compact and low that it may be used as a perennial or shrub amongst other plants in the container garden. Bottlebrushes are relatively drought-tolerant but should be watered thoroughly if grown in containers. Bring your plant indoors before the first frost and overwinter it as a houseplant in a cool and sunny room where it will continue to bloom sporadically until its big grand finale of fireworks in spring.
04 of 07
The royal name of ‘princess flower’ wasn’t given to Tibouchina urvilleana by accident, and it would be a truly noble addition to your garden by virtue of its velvety cool green leaves alone. But when you start to see those silver and downy flower buds appear at the tips of each stem in summer, stand back and enjoy the procession of deep purple blooms with an intensity matched by few other flowers. Even the curled stamens take on a feminine quality if you imagine them as eyelashes, but not so much if you live in Latin America where they are often referred to as ‘spider flower’. Princess flower is also available in a compact dwarf form, and its relative Tibouchina heteromalla has impressive fuzzy leaves over six inches wide. These tropical plants may bloom year-round when grown outdoors in a frost-free climate or greenhouse, but will otherwise bloom from May until January if overwintered indoors.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
With names like cigar plant (Cuphea ignea), candy corn plant (Cuphea micropetala) and batface flower (Cuphea llavea), you can already tell that these plants are lots of fun. Best of all, Cupheas all produce loads of narrow hummingbird-attracting blooms on upright stems throughout the hottest days of summer! Place taller ones at the back of a sunny container garden or use them in combinations where their finely-textured foliage and flowers can pop against broad-leaved ‘thrillers’ such as cannas.
06 of 07
Hummingbirds and butterflies salivate over the wispy and boldly colorful blooms of salvia and so will you. The most common salvia offered as an annual is Salvia splendens, but when compared to the rest, is rather boring. Instead, look for a rainbow of color in these salvias; from the fiery orange-red blooms of ‘Caribbean Coral’ to the fuzzy bright maroon spires of Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha); and from the refreshing cobalt hues of ‘Black and Blue’ and ‘Indigo Spires’ to the feathery chartreuse-colored spikes of ‘Limelight’.
07 of 07
Those delicate moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) that are so commonly grown as houseplants can also be grown outdoors in a shady spot during summer, but they are also just the tip of the iceberg. There are many terrestrial (ground-dwelling) orchids that would be perfectly content if planted in a sunny container garden, and they will add considerable exotic flair to your outdoor gatherings. Reed stem Epidendrum (Epidendrum radicans) looks like a big mimic of milkweed and pretty much blooms nonstop all summer whether grown in shade or full sun. The reedy stems may get lanky under their own weight by late summer, so tie them to garden stakes inserted into the potting mix for additional support. If you’re seeking a more behaved orchid, Philippine ground orchid (Spathoglottis plicata) is low-growing and bears colorful clusters of flowers ranging from deep pink to yellow atop graceful arching leaves. Both orchids are tender to frost but can be either grown as annuals or overwintered indoors as houseplants.
Before you get started with one of these fabulous flowers, be advised that they are all tropicals and will turn to mush in the event of a frost or hard freeze, depending on the plant in question. Either bring them to a sunny window before the first frost or treat them like annuals, collecting seed and starting from scratch in spring. All of the plants listed above will bloom in summer, and many will bloom from spring until fall. While these plants can tolerate drought in the landscape, container gardeners must keep them watered at all times to keep them from burning to a crisp in the summer sun. But don’t let that stop you! They’re totally worth it.