Hardy plants to beat the heat

Living Well | Jane Canaway | Posted on 02 February 2019

Five great heat-tolerant plants for summer.

A garden that looks gorgeous in all seasons is a high ideal, but for many of us, simply having a yard that does not look fried in February is a more realistic goal.

Top-dressing garden beds with compost and mulch in spring will help the soil retain moisture during a long hot summer, but choosing the right plants is key, too. 

The trick is to have good garden ‘bones’ that will offer core interest and structure, then decorate around this with seasonal colour – a bit like having a classic suit or little black dress that you can accessorise.

Here are five heat-loving plant ideas that will provide structure in your garden over summer. 

close up of pink crepe myrtle (lagerstroemia indica)

Create shade

A small tree will cast enough shade to protect delicate plants, add vertical interest and, if planted on the north or west of your home, help keep your home cool, too.

Hardy crepe myrtle (lagerstroemia indica) comes into its own in summer, covered with purple, pink or red papery flowers. By winter the leaves will be gone, revealing marbled, smooth bark, and allowing light into your home. New cultivars offer a range of sizes and colours.

  • Size: Shrub to 6 metres
  • Position: Full sun 
  • Soil: Well drained
  • Care: Water regularly for the first two years.
close up of purple flowers on a white emu bush

Fill the mid-levels

Shrubs of about two metres are useful for screening and provide a bird-friendly backdrop. White emu bush (eremophila nivea) is rare in its native WA but widely available to buy, often as a grafted plant that will cope with any garden soil. Its silky silver-grey foliage contrasts beautifully with its purple flowers in spring and summer and provides year-round texture. Trim back in autumn to keep it compact.

  • Size: Shrub to 2 metres
  • Position: Full sun
  • Soil: Well drained
  • Care: Tolerates light frosts
green sedum

Perennial interest

Perennial plants – those that die back in winter but re-emerge in spring – are in their element during summer. One that suits a range of garden styles is sedum ‘autumn joy’. From spring onwards it produces massed stems of fleshy silver-green, with large, rounded leaves.

The flower heads start forming at the tips in early summer and the densely packed buds start to open in early autumn, deepening from pale to deep pink. Even after they fade, they form striking shapes, especially in frost-affected areas; they’re a favourite of Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf for their ability to ‘decay with dignity’.

  • Size: 60 centimetres
  • Position: Full sun
  • Soil: Well drained
  • Care: Cut back in late winter
close up of kangaroo grass

Grasses

As a soft, upright contrast between other shrubs or as an informal border, ornamental grasses are hard to beat. They offer gentle movement on windy days as well as texture, colour and seed heads to feed the birds.

Beware types that can become weedy and go for a species native to your area, such as the Australia-wide favourite, kangaroo grass (themeda triandra). It has distinctive angular seed heads that ripen over summer and turn a warm, autumnal hue in March-April.

  • Size: 30 centimetres
  • Position: Full sun
  • Soil: Well drained
  • Care: Cut back in late autumn
purple daisies in grass

Groundcovers

Repeated groundcovers can tie your garden design together. A reliable stalwart is Australia’s brachyscome daisy, which has many cultivars in shades of pink, purple, and blue – all loved by butterflies. The mounds of ferny foliage are topped with masses of flowers in spring and summer.

  • Size: 10-15 centimetres
  • Position: Full sun 
  • Soil: Well drained
  • Care: Trim after flowering to keep compact