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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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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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