Top Heat-Loving Plants For The Houston Area
I am sort of on vacation this week, but as things start to heat up for the summer, I wanted to remind you of a handy list I compiled last year.
It's a roster of plants that truly love our summer heat ... and some that are considered drought-tolerant — just in case we get hit with another dry spell.
By the way, just because something might be "drought-tolerant" doesn't mean it won't require water. Such plants still need ample moisture their first growing season. Then, once established, they don't require quite as much.
So, here's a list of plants I admire for their hardiness. And they may be a bit "outside the box." I didn't list the standards like Texas sage and lantana, which also love heat.
Dessert Willow - This plant grows up to 40 feet high and 25 feet wide. It's like a small tree or a large shrub. The willow-like, light-green leaves grow on branches off the twisting trunk. The narrow leaves reach up to 12 inches long. Its fragrant, funnel-shaped flowers reach up to 1.5 inches long in shades of dark-pink or purple with yellow, white or purple streaks in the throat. The blooms appear after summer rains and continue to bloom sporadically into fall. Once the flowers fade, greenish-brown seed pods appear, growing up to 10 inches.
Vitex (chaste tree) - I've always talked about these being great replacements for crape Myrtles, but if you've seen any this drought-ridden season, the established ones are just popping with color. Although its name suggests it's a tree, it's actually a shrub like crape Myrtle and can be limbed up to form a tree. Vitex is one of only a few shrubs we know of that produces blue flowers. The vertical, flower spikes resemble those of salvia and the growth is very similar to that of crape Myrtles, being upright and rounded. Many people say the green foliage resembles that of lace leaf Japanese maples, or cannabis (marijuana), so don't be surprised if the police pull you over for a closer look while you are hauling one home in the back of your truck!
Gulf Coast Muhly (and other ornamental grasses) - A clumping grass with very fine foliage, native to Houston and the surrounding areas, Gulf Coast Muhly is a showstopper in the fall with an absolute cloud of pink flowers! It makes a great border specimen and is spectacular in mass plantings. It's also a great grass for coastal gardens, averaging 2 feet tall. Planted in moist but well drained soil, it's drought-tolerant once established.
Esperanza (yellow bells) - Frankly I'm shocked that mine actually came back from the February freeze, but there it is — about 5 feet tall already in mid-June, and covered with its beautiful yellow flowers. They will continue to flower until the first frost of the season. Esperanza has recently become a popular ornamental plant in Texas gardens. In the wild, it will be found growing in full sun on rocky slopes near San Antonio and in the Trans-Pecos, north into New Mexico and Arizona, east to Florida and south into Central and South America. >The striking, tubular 2½-inch bright yellow flowers are highlighted by the attractive, shiny, green foliage. The flowers have an odd but pleasing fragrance and provide nectar for bees.
Cannas - These tropical bulbs come in too many varieties to name, but there are enough sizes and colors to fit almost any need or desire. They naturalize easily, multiplying through bulb creation and seeds. Ideally, you should plant several varieties to ensure that you get an extremely long bloom season and flower production from mid-spring right up until the first sub-40s hit. Much like my Esperanza, they were knocked way back by the last two freezes, but always come back from their bulbs below ground.
Agave - A definitive xeriscape plant, for sure. This one also comes in a nice range of varieties, and it can add nice texture to your garden year-round. It stands up well to any heat and even long-term drought. Each plant can generate several additional plants each year, which makes it a great candidate for sharing with others, or for filling in a large, open space.
Mexican Flame Vine - This twining, evergreen, sprawling vine has four-inch-long, coarsely toothed, dark-green leaves and terminal clusters of one-inch orange-red, daisy-like flowers with golden centers. Although it appears throughout the year, peak periods of bloom are spring and summer. The quick growth of Mexican flame vine is ideal to add interest to palm trunks, to soften fences, or to veil a trellis. Occasional heading helps some foliage and flowers at the bottom of a fence or other structure supporting the vine. Left unpruned, foliage and flowers accumulate at the top.
Firebush - The groupings of tubular red flowers appear like an explosion or burst of flame. This short shrub takes in the heat and direct sun like few plants can. It is another tender perennial, unfortunately, but it is a fantastic summer survivor that likes to show off its prolific blooms at the peak of the summer.
Firecracker Plant - With flowers similar to the firebush mentioned above, firecracker plant is a perfect complement to any summertime garden or landscape. This tender perennial or sub-shrub has interesting, dense foliage, and you can enjoy its blooms from late spring right up until the first frost.
Yellow Bulbine - This is a succulent, perennial herb which grows in small clusters. The soft, dark-green leaves are erect or arching, linear, grass-like and up to a foot long. Several dense, many-flowered, spike-like inflorescences are formed from a cluster of plants during spring. The inflorescence lengthens as the flowers open and can become over two feet tall. The bright yellow flowers are star-shaped with bearded stamens and mature from the bottom of the inflorescence, with about 10 flowers open at a time. The stalks of the old flowers and fruit are straight and project at almost right angles from the central axis of the inflorescence. Mature fruits are black and often covered with the faded perianth (flower petals) persisting as a cap.
Cigar Plant - Resembling the fire on the end of a cigar or cigarette, the blooms give this plant its name. This one can soak up the sun like the others, but can also tolerate a little shade, which will also help it survive right through the Houston winter.
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