Heat seekers

Fuchsia Sunpatiens hold up to summer’s heat with bright blooms.

The recent heat wave has many gardeners dreaming of breezy cabanas and paper umbrella drinks poolside. The reality is wilting plants, sloshing watering cans, and rising water bills.

These easy-to-grow annuals and perennials embrace the heat, making it easy to create a tropical getaway at home:

Few plants are as tolerant of heat and humidity as lantana (Lantana camara). Ranging from white, yellow, orange, red, purple, to multicolored, there are many cultivars and new hybrids available.

‘Miss Huff’ is a very cold-hardy, reliable perennial lantana. One of the tallest upright types, it grows into mounding shrubs 5 to 6 feet tall with multihued flowers of orange, coral and gold.

‘Chapel Hill Yellow’ is a low-spreading lantana growing up to 16 inches tall by 2 to 3 feet wide. It also is cold hardy and a perennial to USDA Zone 7. Yellow flowers bloom profusely from spring until fall. For a deeper golden yellow color and shorter growing habit, try ‘Chapel Hill Gold.’

Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) conjures images of luaus and hula skirts, which is no surprise since the China native made its way to the South Pacific through the trade routes, becoming the official flower of Hawaii.

Chinese hibiscus is available in punchy colors including red, orange, yellow, pink, lavender and apricot. While Chinese hibiscus is treated as an annual in South Carolina, it’s actually a perennial shrub in its native regions of Asia. Although it is not cold hardy anywhere in the state, it can be overwintered indoors and brought back outside after all danger of frost has passed.

If you overwinter one of the new dwarf types, don’t be alarmed when it grows to normal hibiscus proportions the following season. They are not hybridized or bred to be smaller like other plants but are actually sprayed with a growth regulator to keep their size in check.

Since they are intended for use as annuals in beds, baskets and boxes most gardeners never see them outgrow the effects of the regulator.

New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri) used to be thought of as only a larger-leaved alternative to shade-loving Impatiens walleriana. While they tolerated a bit more sun, they required so much water it was hardly worth the effort.

Advances in plant breeding have brought gardeners true sun-tolerant impatiens that bloom all summer in lush tropical colors. The Sunpatiens Series PPP, developed by Japanese seed company Sakata Seed, are the first impatiens to thrive in full sun, heat and humidity. The Sunpatiens Compact Series seem to be most widely available with lush, floriferous plants reaching 18 to 24 inches tall. The flowers bloom spring to fall with flowers ranging from white, magenta, pale pink, coral, orange, salmon, red and lavender.

Try balancing the beauty of tropical flowers with lush foliage that won’t flag in the heat. Bright chartreuse, deep mahogany or variegated, tropical foliage can add a cooling counterpoint to backyard retreats.

Ornamental sweet potato vine (Ipomea batatas) was selected for its ornamental foliage rather than its sweet-fleshed tubers. Thriving in warm soils and full sun, this trouble-free beauty should be planted where it can spread out and spill over.

‘Marguerite’ is lovely with bright lime-green leaves that stand out against deep purples and mango or orange hues. ‘Blackie’ sports deep purplish-black foliage that pops against yellow greens, fuchsia and white. ‘Pink Frost’ is variegated with white, green and pink leaves. Keep it simple with similarly colored flowers.

Canna lilies are old-fashioned perennials with a wide range of sizes and flower colors ranging from orange, red and yellow. ‘Bengal Tiger,’ a popular variegated cultivar, has green and yellow striped leaves and bright orange flowers.

Aptly named, elephant ears (Colocasia sp.) add large scale and bold texture to the garden. Named cultivars from the Royal Hawaiian Series PPAF include ‘Blue Hawaii,’ ‘Black Coral’ and ‘Maui Gold.’

Butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) is an effortless perennial that floats right into fall when it flowers. The fragrant white blooms resemble white butterflies hovering above the foliage. Until then, the lush green foliage provides a bold backdrop for bright blooms.

If you decide to add a bit of the tropics to your garden this summer, be mindful of heat advisories and plan to work early in the day before the temperatures soar. Alternatively, gardeners could plan next summer’s garden from the shade of the cabana and drift away on a summer breeze.

Amy L. Dabbs is a Clemson Extension Urban Horticulture Extension Agent. Send questions to gardening@postandcourier.com.

Meet area gardeners, learn from horticulture professionals and give back to your community through the Clemson Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program.

The next Clemson Extension Tri-County Master Gardener Training Course for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties will begin Sept. 10.

Master Gardeners share research-based horticulture information with the community by staffing the Clemson Extension offices in their counties.

In addition, Master Gardeners perform educational outreach throughout the community by answering gardener’s questions at farmers markets, helping school gardens flourish, delivering gardening presentations and more.