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A tribute to the flowering clichés of summer

Tree with light pink flowers
Crape myrtle trees add color and dappled shade to so many Sacramento-area yards in summer. (Photos, except where noted: Kathy Morrison)

Crape myrtle and others are colorful delights

Street with crape myrtles
Raspberry and purple crape myrtles brighten this street.
(Photo courtesy Sacramento Tree Foundation)
On a hot summer day, when everything outdoors seems slightly fried,  it's so refreshing to turn a corner and see a crape myrtle tree in full raspberry-tressed glory.

Crape myrtles got me thinking about a few other "cliché" flowering plants --- none of them California natives --- that keep our summers from being bloomless:

Purple-blue flower
Agapanthus blossoms entice pollinators, too.

-- Agapanthus, also called lily of the Nile ( Agapanthus africanus ). But it's not a real lily. The ultimate local landscaping cliché is a clump of these periwinkle-flowered shrubs planted under a crape myrtle! They're hardy and require little maintenance, just needing to be divided every few years. And when they're not blooming, they fade into the background with their strappy green leaves.

Daylily blossom
Daylilies are so gorgeous, worth growing even if the beauty
is fleeting. Below, gazania blossoms are favorites with native bees.
Bottom, lantana is popular in my neighborhood, with good reason.

-- Daylilies ( Hemerocallis spp.). These also aren't real lilies. The showy blooms of these tough perennials come in so many different color variations, but around town you're most likely to see the gold ones called 'Stella de Oro.' The Amador Flower Farm, in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley, specializes in daylilies; the farm's website offers lots of information on cultivars and growing requirements. Like agapanthus, they need dividing every few years -- free plants!

-- Gazanias ( Gazania rigens ). I'd grow these flowers even if their only good point was their attractiveness to bees. But the daisy-like blooms stand up to heat, come in many colors and reseed easily if you let them. I have clumps in my front garden that have survived years with very little maintenance.

-- Lantana ( Lantana camara and L. trifolia , in particular.). Clumping shrubs with many variations in bloom color, lantanas are another favorite with pollinators, especially butterflies. Many cultivars are available. They can be frost-sensitive, but I kept one alive for many winters by using a little frost blanket. They also do well as potted plants.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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