Late Summer Blooms for the Georgia Garden

By the end of summer, many plants have grown tired of providing blooms for our garden. Sometimes it can be a challenge to find plants that will fill in this difficult time with flowers. A diligent gardener can find quite a few plants that bloom in late summer. 

You’re probably familiar with Black-eyed Susan and Butterfly Bushes, providing the garden with blossoms this time of year no matter how hot it gets, attracting butterflies by the hundreds. You’ve seen Japanese Honeysuckle on the side of the road, or perhaps you’re even plagued with its invasive qualities in your own garden. 

But have you seen our native Red Trumpet Honeysuckle? Lonicera sempervirens is a non-invasive evergreen vine that blooms almost year round, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, and many other beneficial insects. Grow it as a groundcover, let it climb an arbor or trellis, or train it to cover a fence. You’ll be rewarded with blooms from spring to fall, and I’ve even seen blooms on mine in December! It will grow in sun or shade, but flowers more profusely in full sun. 

For the shade, try Lobelia cardinalis, our native red Cardinal Flower, loved by hummingbirds. This perennial prefers moist soil, but can be grown in regular garden soil with supplemental water. 

If you have a woodland garden, try the beautiful Plumleaf Azalea, an American native azalea made famous by Callaway Gardens. Rhododendron prunifolium is a rare deciduous azalea with bright red blooms in late July and August. Plumleaf Azalea prefers a cool shady spot with regular water. 

Perennial hibiscus continues to offer up showy blooms in several colors right up until the onset of cold weather. 

And for a little later on in the season, consider adding Swamp Sunflower, a good companion for perennial hibiscus, since they both share a love for sun and water. Helianthus blooms in September with large, bright yellow flowers on tall stems up to 10 feet tall! 

I hope you’ll try some of my suggestions in your late summer garden as you strive to make your garden more beautiful year round.

August & September Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Lycoris

A late-blooming flower you'll probably see only in the South is the old-fashioned favorite, Lycoris.

Lycoris squamigera in August
Lycoris squamigera, is usually referred to as Surprise Lily, but a funny common name for this plant is Naked Ladies. Surprise Lilies blossom in the middle of summer, usually after the 4th of July. The bulb lies dormant a good portion of the year, and then suddenly surprises us by sending up a naked flower stalk up to 2 feet tall, topped with very fragrant pink trumpet-like flowers that look somewhat like a cluster of amaryllis. It is in the amaryllis family. Leaves do not emerge until the flower stalk has faded. The trait of having a flower stalk with no foliage at the bottom is the reason for the amusing common name "Naked Ladies." Leaves are strappy medium green leaves like you'd expect from a lily, but by early Fall they turn yellow and disappear again.

Probably because it grows from a bulb, Lycoris squamigera is very easy to grow. Growing equally well in sun or shade, Lycoris is very versatile and is at home in any southern garden. However, you can grow this one even if you live in a colder climate, since it is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. Squamigera is the most cold hardy of all Lycoris.

Surprise Lily is not picky about soil. Whether you have clay or sand or even the very rare "good soil," Lyoris squamigera will thrive and multiply. It doesn't even matter if your soil is acid or alkaline.

Lycoris squamigera will appreciate regular water during the growing season, but it's just not necessary. And once it goes dormant and the foliage has disappeared, it needs no water at all.

Lycoris radiata in September
Another Lycoris most often referred to by its common name is Lycoris radiata. We always called them Spider Lilies, but in other parts of the South, it is known as Hurricane Lily, since it blooms at the height of Hurricane Season. Each summer we are plagued here in Georgia with a drought that goes on for weeks (if not months), and in September we'll finally get a drenching rain. It is after that good soaking rain that Spider Lilies pop up in old gardens of the South. 

Lycoris radiata blooms have extremely long anthers that give them a "spider-like" appearance, hence the common name Spider Lily. Once the flowers fade, dark green basal leaves appear that look much like liriope (or "monkey grass", as it usually called around here.) Its leaves will stay green all winter here, absorbing nutrients from the sun to convert into energy for the next summer's blooms.

Lycoris radiata is hardy only in the Deep South, in USDA Zones 7-10, but it is still easy to grow. Like other members of the Lycoris family, it tolerates any soil in either sun or shade and needs no supplemental water to thrive. 

I have only the red blooming Spider Lily, but it also can be found in white. 

All species of Lycoris should be divided or transplanted only when dormant, so as not to interrupt its bloom and growth. Early summer is the optimum time for this task. Once the foliage has withered, it is safe to dig the bulbs.

Lycoris does extremely well beneath large established trees.

The flowers make excellent cut flowers and hold up well in a vase, lasting for several days in an arrangement. 

August Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Chelone, Turtlehead

Georgia heat has been brutal this summer, but since I have a sprinkler with a timer, the Chelone is blooming on schedule. 

Chelone is an American native plant found in the Northeastern United States, but it grows nicely here in the Southeast if it gets enough water. Chelone is also known as Turtlehead. The flower spikes are made up of individual flowers that do resemble a turtle's head. According to Greek mythology, Chelone was a nymph who refused to attend the marriage of Zeus to Hera. As punishment, the gods turned her into a turtle!

Sometime in late August or September, depending on your climate, spikes of flowers ascend in either pink or white.

Chelone loves consistently moist or wet soil beside a pond or a stream. It is perfect for a bog garden. I have mine planted in a large tub that is my makeshift bog garden. Turtlehead can be grown in regular garden soil if you have irrigation. Chelone will bloom well in either partial shade or full sun, but if you put it in full sun, be ready to water it regularly. Amend your soil with a rich humusy compost and mulch with shredded leaves. A lot of shade promotes legginess, so if growing in shade, pinch the stems back in early summer to encourage stronger stems and more flowers. 

If you live in Maryland, Chelone is a necessary perennial for the butterfly garden, since it is an important food source for the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly, Maryland's State Insect.

This plant can be grown in most of the United States, since it is hardy in USDA Zones 5-8.

When in bloom, Chelone makes quite a show at a height and spread of up to 4 feet. Plant a low groundcover beside it that will remain green in the winter, because Chelone disappears completely with the first frost.

Deer Resistant? Yes! Deer will not eat Chelone. 

Chelone blooms make great cut flowers too, so plant it in your cutting garden.  Like most plants I write about, Chelone is available from my favorite native plant source, Shady Gardens Nursery.

July Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Clethra, Summersweet, Sweet Pepper Bush

Clethra alnifolia 'Ruby Spice'
Blooming in the heat of summer with temperatures hovering near 100 degrees is Clethra alnifolia. Also known as Sweet Pepper Bush or Summersweet, Clethra attracts many pollinators with its honeyscented blooms of pink or white. Clethra is a deciduous blooming shrub native to the Eastern United States. I'm a little late with this post, since our Clethras all bloomed earlier in July and have now finished blooming.

Because I love all things pink, my favorite Clethra is Ruby Spice. Vivid pink bloom spikes adorn the tips of almost every stem in late July or August. Ruby Spice Clethra is a tall shrub, reaching up to 8 feet tall at maturity.

Clethra 'Hummingbird'
If you prefer white blooms, Clethra Hummingbird is a popular choice a lake at Callaway Gardens. 
Hummingbird Clethra encircles the edge of Hummingbird Lake behind the Discovery Center. This shrub has pure white bottlebrush blooms spikes about 3 inches long. The fragrant blooms which smell kind of spicy attract pollinators from a great distance.

Another white bloomer is Clethra Sixteen Candles, selected and named by horticulturist Michael Dirr from the University of Georgia. This Clethra is so named because when in bloom its upright flowers resemble candles on a birthday cake. These blooms are up to 6 inches long! Due to its compact habit, this one grows well in containers so it would be great on a patio or sunny porch where the blooms and their fragrance could be better enjoyed.
Clethra 'Sixteen Candles'

No matter the flower color, butterflies and bumble bees love the nectar produced by Clethra blooms. I'm watching to see if our honeybees visit the blooms too.

Clethra needs regular water to grow well. In its natural environment it is found growing on the banks of a creek or lake. Full sun makes the plant bloom prolificly in the latter part of summer. You'll want to be able to reach the plants with a hose when summer drought arrives. 

Clethra can be grown literally all over the United States, since it is hardy in USDA Zones 4 - 9.

July Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Black-eyed Susan

Rudbecka 'Goldsturm' in July
Probably the showiest plants in the late summer garden are the Rudbeckias. 

When adding new plants to my garden, I always prefer natives. Rudbeckia is a native flowering plant with showy coneflower blooms that attract all kinds of pollinators. The United States has many different Rudbeckias that are native, some are perennial while others are self-sowing annuals. 

Most often referred to as Blackeyed Susan, many types of Rudbeckia have been developed. The most widely planted one remains 'Goldsturm.' And for good reason! 

Bright golden yellow sunflower type blooms are held up high on strong stems that do not require staking. When given moderately fertile soil and just an occasional watering, Rudbeckia will self-sow and spread into quite a sizeable family of plants, making an eye-catching show in July and August. Since Goldsturm thrives in hot, sunny spots with little water, it should be included in any roadside garden or xeriscape planting. But if you don't have an area with full sun all day, don't be afraid to try it anyway. Although full sun is loved by Blackeyed Susan, they bloom in shade here in our garden. And if you're on a budget, you can start with just one plant!

Another Rudbeckia we added to our garden just last year is Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers.' Our plant has really taken off this summer. Unlike Goldsturm, Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers' does require staking or some type of support. It would look great against a wooden fence or wall. The stems are 8 feet tall this year and just coming into bloom. This rudbeckia is named for the horticulturist who found it growing wild. Petals on Henry Eilers Rudbeckia are true yellow instead of gold. The foliage carries the distinct fragrance of vanilla, which is why this one is often referred to as Sweet Coneflower or Sweet Black-eyed Susan. I have it planted right alongside Hibiscus coccineus where the blooms can be enjoyed together along the path beside the greenhouse.
Rudbeckia 'Henry Eilers' in July to August

Sweet Coneflower does enjoy moist soil, so it is more suited to a spot where you can water it when needed. It can be grown in full sun or partial shade, but it cannot withstand long periods of drought. 

All rudbeckias attract pollinators into the garden. Butterflies, hummingbirds, bumblebees, and honeybees love them as much as we do. 

The strong stems and long life of the flower make them excellent cut flowers for bouquets to be taken indoors.

Don't remove all the spent flowers. Allow your plants to go to seed and rudbeckia will self-sow to fill a large area. And by the way, the seeds are a favorite food of all finches. 

Coneflowers can be grown in most areas of the United States in USDA Hardiness Zones as cold as Zone 5. We should all make room in our garden for coneflowers of every color.