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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 Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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