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Some like it hot; discover heat-loving perennials

Colorful plants can thrive in intense heat (but may need some shade)

Kahili ginger loves intense heat and can take some cold.

Kahili ginger loves intense heat and can take some cold.

Debbie Arrington

Nobody looks good at 115 degrees. But there are several perennials that thrive in triple-digit temperatures. All they need is some afternoon shade.

You might think that Sahara-like temperatures are only fit for cacti. (Desert plants don’t like this much heat either.) Sacramento’s hottest day ever has me considering what flowers can still bloom in ultra-high heat.

Instead of desolate desert landscapes, our current heatwave has me dreaming about tropical places; a jungle may be incredibly hot, but it’s lush.

My own backyard jungle is holding its own during this heatwave, thanks to afternoon shade and deep watering. Some perennials are even blooming profusely.

My current jungle stars are the kahili ginger and hardy hibiscus. These plants don’t only withstand intense heat, but chilly winter nights that may dip below 30 degrees.

Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum), native to the southern Himalayas, needs a kiss of cold to bloom. It gets that in Sacramento, producing huge yellow flower stalks in late August. With long red stamens, the feathery flowers get their nickname from the Hawaiian royal standard that symbolized power. The stalks are 6 foot tall, topped with the distinctive blooms. Worldwide, it’s the most cultivated of all ginger varieties.

Hardy hibiscus looks like its tropical Hawaiian cousin but can withstand sub-freezing cold as well as triple-digit heat. The long canes (6 to 8 feet) die back in winter as the plant goes dormant.

Pink hibiscus blossom with darker pink center
Peppermint Schnapps hibiscus loves Sacramento.

New cultivars stay more compact; only 3 to 4 feet tall. On shorter canes, these cultivars bear bigger blooms, often 8 inches across. They’re hardy in Zones 4 through Sacramento’s Zone 9. My favorites are two hot pinks: Peppermint Schnapps and Brandy Punch.

According to perennial specialist Proven Winners, other heat-loving perennials include sedum, caladium, euphorbia, gaillardia, coneflowers, salvia and lantana. Most can tolerate full sun, but do better in Sacramento with a little afternoon shade.

Look around in your own garden. What’s thriving in this heat? You may consider growing more of that plant in summers to come.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

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

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* 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 help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* 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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