Six Perennials for Tough Conditions

Summer is here and the heat is on! Over the course of the last two summers I have noticed the good and the bad of perennials in my gardens. I don’t have an irrigation system, and I rarely water after planting, even when it gets hot.

My plants seem to perform in the heat, really thriving in neglect. If you are looking for some summer color for those hot July and August days, try any of the six following perennials for unforgettable color and growth.

Purple Coneflower in Mass Planting
Purple Coneflower in Mass Planting

The first one is Echinacea purpurea, or Purple Coneflower. In mass plantings it can’t be beat. Purple to mauve hues light up the landscape anywhere this tough native is planted. There are many cultivars, but it is hard to beat ‘Magnus’ for durability and beauty.

It will reseed and add color to new spots in the garden.  Purple coneflower will grow from three to five feet in height and provide summer-long color and winter interest with its seedheads.

Other varieties for dry sites that can withstand the heat and cold winters are the Sombrero Series, ‘Raspberry Truffle’, and Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida).

Coneflowers are one of my favorite perennials, having grown up just outside the Flint Hills region, I saw them start blooming in June and continue until first frost on my Grandparent’s pasture ground.

Sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale
Sneezeweed in Full Bloom

Another long bloomer for heat and drought is Sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale. This native perennial has been bred for new varieties and really stands out in the garden.

When people visit my place they always ask about the plant with the varying shades of orange and red petals. The centers take on an almost purplish to black hue and photographs really don’t do it justice.

This plant gets to about three feet in height and will bloom from July to first frost. Wonderful in massings, Sneezeweed also makes a great specimen plant for that hot, dry spot in the garden.

Russian Sage
Russian Sage

Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia, is our next performer. Growing from about three to six feet in height, this perennial is not a true sage, but has similar aromas and wonderful lavender colored flowers from June to frost.

Often grown in mass plantings for a very delicate and airy appearance, Russian Sage makes a good backdrop for more colorful flowers.

Munstead Lavender in the Landscape
Munstead Lavender in the Landscape

Watch out though, this perennial spreads through rhizomes and can be aggressive under weed barriers and rock. In a mulched garden it can be easier to control. A little in my garden matches wonderfully with Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea, and Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella).

When we first moved to our house I wanted something I didn’t have to water, could use in cooking, and would look great by my old well pump. The option I chose was Lavender (Lavendula sp). 

This drought tolerant herb hails from the Mediterranean, and really shines in our climate. I have several varieties, but ‘Munstead’ really works great in the garden and the kitchen.

With soft purple flowers and gray green foliage, this perennial will always grow in dry, well-drained soil, full sun to part shade. Heights generally stick around one to two feet and may spread about four feet.

It is great for mass plantings, borders, and accent plantings. Mix with Garden Sage ‘Tricolor’ for a special treat!

Kobold Liatris just starting to bloom
Kobold Liatris Just Starting to Bloom

My next flower is my favorite all time flower, which often blooms about the time of my birthday, in September.

Liatris sp. (Blazingstar, Gayfeather), is a tough native flower that may bloom from June to frost. There are many options available for the garden, from Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ to the wilder species Liatris aspera (Button Blazingstar) and Liatris punctata (Dotted Gayfeather). 

The Blazingstars are tall bloomers, with pink to purple blooms, and are great as cut flowers or in dried arrangements. They are a center of the garden plant and will match well with daisies and rudbeckia.

These drought loving natives will often send roots down thirty feet to get water, so no need for irrigation here. Heights can range from two feet to four feet tall.

The last of these perennials is probably my best performer in the garden. Butterfly milkweed just takes the heat and laughs, ha ha ha! It grows best in full sun but can handle some part sun conditions too, as it does in my Entry Garden. The pollinators absolutely love this plant when it is blooming.

The buds themselves are also very pretty, even before they open. It grows 2 1/2 feet tall and wide and occasionally reseeds itself about the garden, though I see less seedling of it than I do of blazingstar. And the yellow cultivar ‘Hello Yellow’ is just as amazing as the straight species, it is just lacking that pop out color.

Butterfly milkweed with honeybee

Remember these six perennials when planning your garden beds and you won’t be disappointed! They all will take and enjoy full sun, heat, and drought conditions.


3 thoughts on “Six Perennials for Tough Conditions

  1. Our tomato plants are turning yellow on the bottom leaves. How can we prevent that from happening?

    1. Most likely this is caused by a fungus. The best prevention is to mulch around your tomatoes ( the fungus is soil borne and can splash on the plant when watered). Next, you need to treat with a fungicide labeled for vegetables. We use Triple Action Plus by Fertilome.

  2. You can also strip the lower leaves off the plant once it has reached about 2 feet in height. I always plant my tomatoes in weed barrier to reduce the amount of soil borne disease problems. And then mulch it. If you use overhead watering, water early enough that the foliage has time to dry before dark, this helps prevent disease too.

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