How hot was it in Grumpy’s Alabama garden this week?
- IT WAS SO HOT, the burning bush caught fire.
- IT WAS SO HOT, the ice plant melted.
- IT WAS SO HOT, the bearded iris shaved.
- IT WAS SO HOT, the naked ladies stayed that way.
Yes, it’s been hotter ‘n’ Grumpy’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover all week. Ninety-four degrees at 10 in the morning? C’mon, give me a break! But as miserable as weather like this is for gardeners, it’s even worse for gardens. Weeks without rain and temps near 100 leave most plants looking like they took a quick dip in hot grease.
Are there any plants that thrive in these conditions and will beautify your gardens all summer? Of course, they are! Here is the first of Grumpy’s 10 Great Summer Sizzlers. Plant ’em and be cool.
Native to western and central Asia, this clumping perennial combines handsome foliage with colorful summer flowers. Mature plants stand 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, with graceful, upright, whitish stems holding finely cut, aromatic, gray-green leaves. Sprays of small blue flowers appear continuously from late spring through summer, forming a soft haze above the foliage. Butterflies love the flowers.
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) has many uses in the garden. Its cool-colored flowers and foliage combine well with reds, oranges, and yellows; its fine-textured foliage is a good foil for plants with coarser leaves, such as purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, iris, aster, and sedum. But Grumpy thinks it’s most effective when planted in a mass, the way you see here.
Once established, Russian sage is very easy to grow for just about anybody. It’s cold-tolerant to Canada and heat-tolerant to Florida. It has no serious pests, not even deer. It needs little water or fertilizer. It’s not fussy about soil.
You just need to remember three things. First, plant it in full sun. Second, good drainage is a must. It won’t grow in heavy, wet soil. Finally, don’t prune it in fall. Wait until new growth begins in spring and then cut old stems nearly to the ground.
Fight the Flop
One problem people sometimes encounter with plain Russian sage is that it has a tendency to flop onto other plants. One way to counter this is to plant it in a mass by itself. Another is to plant an improved selection chosen for dense, upright growth that doesn’t flop. Grumpy recommends ‘Blue Spire,‘ ‘Filigran,’ ‘Little Spire,’ and ‘Lacey Blue.’ Click on the names for mail-order sources. Many garden centers also sell Russian sage.
Coming Up Next
Summer Sizzler #2 — Yucca.