Saturday, June 22, 2013

Doggone it! Color to get through the Dog Days of Summer

The sun is out, the days are warm, and each day brings us closer to the Dog Days of Summer: the hottest and most humid time of the year, lasting from about July 3 through August 11. The Dog Days were named long ago by stargazers who observed that this sultry period occurred within 20 days on either side of the conjunction of the star Sirius (which is the dog star) and the sun. In olden times, the arrival of the Dog Days of Summer meant disease and extreme discomfort. Today, we can look forward to this time of year filled with warm days, evening barbeques, and Fourth of July celebrations. The hot, humid climate of the Dog Days does, however, take a toll on our gardens. Gardening with color during this time of year can be a challenge. Many plants fade and wither with the heat. Also, water conservation issues can make for a very thirsty garden. There is a solution, though. As perennials, flowering shrubs, and trees start to wane, we can fill the void with summer annuals.

 These are plants that go through their entire life cycle in one year. They do not flower more than once. Many annuals make excellent “Dog Day” plants, because they can thrive in full sun and hot temps, and they add quick, vibrant color to the garden. These are just a few examples:
Tuberous begonias (begonia tuberhybrida) come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The begonia family has over 1400 species. Geraniums are native to South Africa and can range in size from 6 inches to 3-4 feet. They come in blooms of red, white, pink, purple, or blue. The common name “cranesbill” refers to the the seed capsule that looks like a crane’s bill. The beak-like column will burst open when ripe and cast the seeds over a distance Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) thrives in the heat of summer, smells like cherry pie, and comes in purple, blue, and white. Heliotrope is toxic if ingested in large quantities over a period of time.