For most people, not much goes on in the garden from mid-July through August. Few plants bloom during that scorching time.
Annuals stay about the same or look rather tired. Most perennials no longer bloom. And it's certainly no time to plant new things. So how can you bring life into an August garden? Start planning for next year!
Fall is the correct season to plant perennials. To have a brightly colored August garden, plan it now. Then plant it in late September, as the weather begins to cool. August-blooming perennials need extensive root systems, so plant them 10 months ahead.
You need no other tricks for success. Just plan, select the right plants and plant them at the right time.
You may be surprised at how many perennials bloom in Georgia in July and August.
Lantana 'Miss Huff' is drought-tolerant and blooms best in August, as the second brood of tiger swallowtails flits about. This is a large bush by August, almost 5 feet around, with up to several hundred brilliant, orange-yellow flowers. So leave space when planting.
You need self-sufficient perennials adapted to heat and drought for August gardens. No plant better matches that description than Echinaceae purpurea, the purple coneflower. This plant blooms most profusely in August. It's another butterfly attractor, with nectar even in the driest of summers. For best effect, plant 10 to 12 plants in groups.
Veronicastrum virginicum is a veronica-like perennial with beautiful white flowers. It's big enough to fill in large areas of an unused space in the yard. Butterflies and other creatures love the flowers. And it imparts movement at the slightest breeze, forming waves of white flowers.
Physostegia virginiana is very, very vigorous, spreads fast and can dominate the garden. But such beautiful lavender flowers! Plant it in sunny glades in the woods and in planters or restricted garden areas where it can't run. If fertilized and kept from drought, it can be a showstopper. But it's not for the timid gardener.
Helenium autumnale has been improved from our native species. Checkerspot butterflies love this yellow daisy flower. And it seems to ignore the worst droughts. Plant 10-20 plants in groups for a stunning effect. Don't feed it after the first few weeks of spring, or it will have soft, floppy growth.
Boltonia is an aster-like plant with blue-green foliage offsetting titanium-white flowers. It quickly forms a colony that's easy to divide in the fall. It needs some care during drought but is a wonderful August-bloomer.
Crocosmia 'lucifer' is a late-summer flowering bulb. The warmer the spring and summer, the earlier it blooms. In general it will bloom in August if kept moist. The gladioli-like red flowers are striking and make great cut flowers.
Lobelia cardinalis is a great hummingbird attractor and blooms at the Newnan art festival every August. It requires moisture and accepts shade. Never winter-mulch it, as it keeps rosette leaves all winter and needs sun to survive.
Asters frikartii 'Monch' and novi-belgii 'Prof Kippemburg' are the two asters I recommend for those new to the genus and new to planning late- summer flowers. Asters are easily grown in Georgia, provided you follow a few rules. They can't tolerate competition from other plants. Miss Huff lantana will overwhelm an aster planted too close. Give asters room to grow, and they'll flower impressively from August through October.
Planting August-blooming perennials means never having to miss something new and wonderful in the garden. And since most are drought-tolerant and low-maintenance, they're perfect for the already busy gardener.
(Paul Thomas is a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)