Desert lantana flowers in close up

Colorful lantana blossoms with focus on front grouping accentuating yellow and pink petals and creating coordinated background with shallow depth of field.

There are many fabulous flowering annuals and perennials that splash color across the landscape. It can be a challenge in Coastal Georgia to find the right combination of choices that will thrive despite humidity and high temperature, two things you can’t change. If your site includes intense sun and sandy soils, the choices become more limited, unless you modify the soil with addition of organic matter, provide additional water in times of drought and add 2-4 inches of mulch to the soil surface to help retain moisture and moderate soil temperature – three things you can change.

If you visit a local garden center versus a home improvement store, you might find the prices to be a bit higher, but you have the bonus of asking the employees about the best choices for your landscape. It’s been my experience that they have a great deal of knowledge about the plants that they sell and if not, there is someone on site that does. To me, that is worth the few extra dollars that I might have to spend. I shop at my local garden center, Ace Garden Center, on St. Simons Island and can attest that their long-time employees are top-notch. I also shop at Lowe's and The Home Depot in Brunswick, but the employees are not very knowledgeable. This lack of knowledge creates a problem because many of the plants sold may not be the best seasonal choices for our area, often succumbing to heat and humidity before our long summer even begins to think about winding down. That being said, all locations offer a great variety of plants. Here are just a few of my top choices for summer on the coast.

Lantana

This sun-loving perennial has been around for a long time. This tough evergreen plant is native to tropical regions of the Americas and Africa. It is used as an annual in colder climates. Depending on species choice, it can grow upright as a shrub (L. camara) or sprawl as a groundcover (L. montevidensis). Lantana performs well in mixed beds and borders as well as in containers. It comes in bright colors, from singular colors of orange, red, purple, white, yellow to wonderfully bright mixes of color. Butterflies and hummingbirds are frequent visitors to the flowers. Lantana is extremely drought resistant; it will suffer in poorly drained or overwatered areas. It is also tolerant of salt spray. One insect that affects flowering locally is lantana lace bug; their feeding causes a blotched or spotted appearance on the upper leaf surface. However, the small 1/8” insects are actually feeding on the underside of the leaf. They will also feed on newly opened buds and flowers. Heavily infested leaves will become almost white before falling off. An organic approach to control is with an insecticidal spray or neem oil but these should only be used when temperatures are below 90°F.

Pentas

This wonderful pollinator attracter is a native of the warm regions of Africa and Madagascar. It is an outstanding annual with intensely colored star-shaped flower clusters that last throughout the summer into the early fall. Flower colors range from purple to red, to pink to white. Heights can range from 12-24” depending on variety. Allow for at least 6-8 hours of sunshine. A perfect choice for planting en masse, in shrub borders and in containers.

Blue Daze Evolvulus

If you are looking for an attractive full-sun groundcover offering small silvery-green leaves and profuse clear blue flowers, then Blue Daze is a must. This dense, rounded, low growing plant blooms all summer long and in mild winters, can survive year. It can be used in the landscape as a border plant, in a hanging basket or cascading over the side of a container.

Madagascar Periwinkle

This tender perennial has been bred and cultivated for over 100 years. In our coastal Zone 9A, it is an annual. In my own garden, it comes back from seed which at times, can require “weeding” errant plants out of unwanted areas. It thrives in hot and humid conditions, blooming continually in a sunny location in shades of pink, lavender, rose, burgundy, lilac, apricot and white. It is very susceptible to overwatering and poorly drained sites, often succumbing to wilt and rot diseases. Cora™ and Nirvana™ series each offer some disease resistance.

Perennial salvias

I have written about these often over the years. They remain a mainstay in my garden because of the ease of growing them, the continuous blooms and the constant visitation by hummingbirds through the summer months. My varieties reach heights of 3 feet with equal spread and include cultivars Ember’s Wish, Wendy’s Wish, and S. guarantica "Black and Blue."

Begonias

Sometimes, the old tried and true are the best. Begonias have been a mainstay of my container plantings for many years. My favorite are the Angel Wing begonias but this year, I have the traditional wax begonias. The double flowering tuberous begonias are beautiful but I haven’t had the success with them that I have had with other types.

Four o'clocks

I had to look around for seed to grow this old-fashioned shrub-like erect multi-branched perennial. Native to the Andes Mountains of South America, four o’clocks perform well in the coastal garden, blooming abundantly throughout the summer. They will reach a height of 2-3 feet. Plants do well in full sun to partial shade and in poor to average soil. They are somewhat drought resistant and require infrequent watering. The fragrant tubular flowers open in the late afternoon and range in color from white, yellow to pink, magenta and red. Interestingly, the plants produce a dark-colored large tuberous taproot that can be more than a foot in length. In their native habitat, this root can weigh up to 40 pounds!

All of these can be found in my summer 2021 garden. What I love is the ability to add and subtract plants, easily changing out the annual species as well as moving around (and at times replacing) the perennials at relatively low cost. Gardening to me is an art form that is fluid and interesting. It is a life-long passion and an endeavor in which trial and error are major components and yet, learning is always a bonus!