Wilt-Proof Your Garden

Arm yourself with a few smart strategies -- and a smattering of heat-loving flowers -- and keep your garden looking vibrant during the most sweltering stretch of the season.
Martha Stewart Living, August 2011

Just as you get your backyard going full tilt, along comes the toughest month of the gardening year -- August, with its blistering heat. As temperatures reach the 90s, many plants wilt or cease to flower, and containers may require daily watering. For humans, too, the hot spells are hard to bear. But you don't have to gaze out hopelessly from the air-conditioned indoors, longing for May. By heeding helpful techniques from our experts and choosing the right plants, you and your garden can both keep your cool.

Heat Seekers

Despite their delicate appearance, these colorful flowers relish hot weather.

  1. Petunia ‘Neon Rose’ flowers abundantly on graceful two-foot-long stems.
  2. ‘Bonanza Yellow’ marigold blooms early and keeps going strong all summer.
  3. Verbena ‘Raspberry Sorbet’ grows into a wide trailing carpet of magenta.
  4. Angelonia ‘Archangel Pink’ consistently produces delicate rosy-purple spires.
  5. Dahlia ‘Onesta’ blooms best in hot weather, as do all members of this clan.
  6. Ageratum ‘Artist Purple’ has fuzzy flower heads that attract butterflies.
  7. Calibrachoa ‘Pink Vein’ has loads of tiny petunialike flowers with deep-pink eyes.
  8. Lantana ‘Sunrise Rose’ bears tricolored flowers.
  9. Pelargonium ‘Mini Karmine’ displays airy geranium flowers that make great additions to hanging baskets.

How to Water

Remember: It’s better to water deeper and less often than quickly every day. This strategy helps deliver moisture to the roots, where it’s needed most. Instead of standing around in the heat and spraying a garden hose for hours, invest in a timer that links to an automatic system and a flow regulator, and select the right hose for the right planting. Once it’s all set up, your garden will practically water itself.

Soaker Hose

Best for: covering larger areas, such as a perennial border or a vegetable garden. made of a thick, porous material, the hose slowly but thoroughly moistens crowded flower beds dotted with annuals and perennials up to 18 inches apart (for loam or clay soil, up to 2 feet).

Drip Line

Best for: trees and shrubs. the most effective way to reach the deep roots of large plants is a system of tubes and emitters set on a timer. it lets you target each plant efficiently without wasting water on the plantless areas of the garden.

Garden Hose (With Sprayer)

Best for: container and window-box plants. these smaller plantings may need frequent soaks in high heat. A direct application also aids plants with signs of severe stress, such as wilting or leaf drop.

If no rain is predicted for the next few days, it’s best not to cut your lawn. Mowing in the heat of the summer stresses the grass.
-- Paul Tukey, founder, safelawns.org, and author of "The Organic Lawn Care Manual"

When to Water

Plants lose moisture through their leaves. So when temperatures climb, they can suffer from a serious water deficit. Sidestep this problem by knowing when and how much to give different plant types.

Type of Plant: Annuals
Time of Day: Early morning
How Much*: 1-2 inches each week

Type of Plant: Perennials
Time of Day: Early morning
How Much*: 1-2 inches each week

Type of Plant: Vegetables
Time of Day: Early morning
How Much*: 1 inch every 5-7 days

Type of Plant: Trees/shrubs
Time of Day: Evening/night
How Much*: 1-3 inches each week

* To measure how much your irrigation system releases in one hour, bury an empty tuna can underneath the running hose, and see how many inches of water accrue in that time.

The Best Advice for Healthy Turfgrass

Author Paul Tukey shares simple tips on caring for a resilient lawn.

Do: Know When to Mow

The best time to cut your grass is in the evening, before the dew settles. Wet grass from the morning dew clogs up the blades, and midday heat can rob turf of moisture.

Do: Aim High

Keep your mower blades set at least three inches high for all lawn grass species except Bermuda, seashore paspalum, and bent grass.

Do: Keep It Green

To help your lawn stay green, use a blend of turfgrasses and clover. Clover also supports healthy soil by taking nitrogen from the atmosphere and fixing it into the ground.

Don't: Sprinkle Instead of Soak

Water deeply once a week. This method trains the roots to grow downward toward the moisture rather than rise to the surface.

Don't: Make It Too Rich

Never apply fertilizers during droughts or in high summer. nitrogen encourages lush new growth, which is more vulnerable during hot spells.

Don't: Fight Nature

It’s normal for cool-season turf-grasses to go dormant and turn brown tomakeitthrough droughts. The plant will resume growth once the cooler weather returns.

Foliage gives season-long color, and there’s no deadheading to get another flush of bloom.
-- Dennis Schrader, owner, Landcraft Environments

Cool Leaves

With such an array of leaf colors and textures, you may not miss the flowers.

  1. Pelargonium ‘Vancouver centennial’ has bronze leaves with chartreuse edges.
  2. Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ drapes containers with a carpet of reflective gray.
  3. Coprosma ‘Evening Glow’ has thick glossy tricolor leaves that reflect light.
  4. Alternanthera ‘Rubiginosa’ stays low. The deep-maroon foliage spreads to three feet.
  5. Tradescantia ‘Golden Oyster’ forms whorls of succulentlike leaves.
  6. Acalypha ‘Ceylon’ grows into a large plant of billowing sawtooth-edge leaves.
  7. Aloe ‘Christmas Carol’ makes graphic, potting- friendly star-shape clumps.
  8. Acalypha ‘Heterophylla’ grows ribboned leaves with yellow trims.
  9. Echeveria ‘Rosea’ loves the heat as much as any other succulent. We especially like this one for its ruffled edges.

The Closers

These foolproof perennials pick up speed in September and October, just when everything else starts to flag.

Japanese Anemone

This tall perennial flowers best in dappled afternoon shade and rich soil. (Note: It may be invasive in certain zones.)


Choose from a wide variety of these stalwarts. They grow in tight mounds or in tall, loose stands. Newer hybrids are more mildew resistant.

Toad Lily

The easy-to-grow shade-loving tricyrtis looks almost like a tropical orchid that found its way into the shady corners of your backyard.

Hardy Begonia

Unlike the short bedding varieties, the tall Begonia grandis will make an impressive display of flowers and angel-wing leaves in the shade garden.

Late-Blooming Salvia

Many think of these only as the squat, red bedding varieties. Seek elegant types like S. guaranitica and S. ‘Indigo Spires.’


It’s hard to resist the electric-blue flowers of ceratostigma. This tough plant also succeeds in problem areas such as the dry shade under old trees.


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