I teach English as a Second Language at a small university in British Columbia, and I write about literacy, teaching, yoga, and travel.
Plants for Sun
Plants for sunny gardens need at least six to eight hours of full sunlight. If they get sufficient water, they'll thrive on full sun from dawn to dusk. Many of them will grow in part-sun part shade as well, although plants in shade will usually flower later and have fewer blooms.
If your perennial is not flowering well, try moving it to a sunnier place. Since the plants last for many years, often the garden grows up around them, and after twenty years, a spot that once had full sun may now be shaded by trees that have grown up, and the plants are starving in the shadows. They need sun for photosynthesis to manufacture their food in the green leaves, transforming light into energy. Move them in the spring, and watch them take off.
Perennial plants are the backbone of the summer garden. As the name suggests, they live through the years, moving into dormancy during the winter months, storing their power underground and out of sight in their roots. Once the soil warms and the days lengthen in spring, the herbaceous perennials appear again like old friends, faithful and enduring, and every year more beautiful.
They often have a short period of blooming, which can be lengthened by cutting and deadheading, but during the rest of the growing season, they maintain beautiful foliage of various shades and shapes. As one patch of perennials ends its bloom, another begins, so the colours move around the garden as the season progresses.
Perennials are easy to care for, resistant to disease, and easy to divide. Share divisions with friends and neighbours, or transplant them in other places in your own garden to populate new beds and create rhythms of colour in the landscape. It is best to transplant them early in spring once the ground is warm or in late summer after they have bloomed. Once they are putting their energy into growing blooms, they don't develop roots and new vegetative growth as easily as at other times of year.
Most perennials develop new stems from the roots, so it is easy to cut a new division off with a trowel to transplant. Do this after rain, when the earth is wet and soft, and the roots come out easily without breaking. Plant in the new location, water in well, spread a little organic fertilizer, top-dress with compost, and mulch the new plant with grass clippings. The new plant will flower next growing season.
Summer Blooming Perennials
Summer blooming perennials start with iris, and the ground covers like basket-of-gold and snow-in-summer. These plants overlap the late spring bulbs, like tulips, and the early flowering shrubs, like lilacs, honeysuckle, and red-flowering currant. Later come poppies, lilies, and the bee-attracting plants like monarda, salvia, lavender, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and other daisy-like flowers in the Compositae family.
Here are a few of my favourites for a sunny summer show of colour that lasts through the years.
1. Bee Balm or Monarda
Bee Balm, or Monarda, is an attractant for bees to pollinate your fruit trees and vegetable gardens.
Iris come in a wide range of colours—white, yellow, purple, bi-colour, and shades in between. they flower in early June, lifting large showy flowers on stalks higher than the knees among long, strap-like leaves. When planting them, make a cleft in the soil with the trowel and put the roots underground, but leave the thick rhizome and the bottom of the stalk above the ground where the sun will reach it. If the rhizomes are buried, the plants will not flower.
Since iris flower early and go dormant, they are great for borders that are harder to irrigate in the hottest part of the summer, for they can survive on less water.
3. Peony (Paeonia lactiflora)
Peonies open huge blossoms in early summer and need to be staked or supported in tomato cages or grown near a fence, lest the weight of the blossoms tip the stalks over. Plant peonies near a path where passers-by can enjoy the fragrance of the colourful blooms in shades of red, white, and pink. Their flowering season is short, about two weeks, but splendid, and every year the maturing plants get bigger and produce more blooms.
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4. Thyme (Thymus)
Thyme is a creeping ground cover and will spread. Planted between paving stones or as an edging plant between rocks, it will fill in the spaces. When it flowers, the colour spreads like a carpet. Planted some near your door, where it is easily accessible to snip pieces off and use them in the kitchen to flavour soups and stews.
Many varieties are available, with yellow, white, pink and mauve flowers, and leaves that smell of lemon or apple, as well as the traditional English thyme.
5. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Bees love lavender, and the plants are alive with buzzing as the blossoms open. The purple or white flowers are fragrant and can be snipped in the morning after the dew has dried, dried, and placed in small cloth bags in drawers to scent the clothes.
6. Russian Lavender
Russian lavender is larger than the English lavender and makes an impressive, fragrant hedge beside a path. It makes a dramatic feature in the landscape when paired with tall grasses like Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis X acutiflora 'Karl Foerster').
Delphiniums, or larkspur, grow taller than a person and need to be staked or supported. The raceme of cobalt flowers, or sometimes white, opens in late June and brings a dramatic pool of blue to the sunny garden. All parts of the plant are toxic to people and animals if eaten.
8. Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Black-eyed Susan thrives in hot sunny areas, as do other daisies.
9. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Echinacea purpurea forms clumps that thrive in full sun, attracting butterflies and bees. It is reputed to have medicinal properties that boost the immune system and reduce the symptoms of colds, such as cough, sore throat, and running nose. However, scientific research supporting these claims is conflicting.
Nevertheless, it has been a traditional healing plant in first nations medicine and herbalism, and, along with other natural remedies like drinking infusions of ginger and lemon and rinsing the nose and throat with a saline solution, may be effective when you feel a cold coming.
Liatris, or Blazing-Star, have stalks of star-like flowers that are dramatic in the garden or in cut flower bouquets.
11. Columbine (Aquilegia)
Columbines come in almost every colour—pale yellow, gold, orange, pink, deep red, pale blue, and dark blue—and there are also some bi-colour varieties. They flower in late spring and early summer and produce many seeds that easily self-propagate. The flower has five spurs at the back of the petals that look like the claw of the hunting eagle, which gives the plant its Latin name, from aquila, for "eagle."
12. Cranesbill Geranium
The beautiful pink or blue cranesbill geraniums form mounds of deeply cut leaves with abundant flowers. They thrive in sun or part shade, with more flowers in sunnier spots, and they transplant easily. They are not related to the popular annual geraniums, used as bedding plants in sunny areas, which are actually pelargoniums, and not geraniums at all.
Astilbe's feathery flowers come in shades of white, pink and red. They grow into clumps and look wonderful massed in the border, waving their feathers in the wind.
Poppies' large, silken flowers in many colours come back year after year. There are many varieties--Oriental poppies, Icelandic, California, and others. They grow from a deep taproot and do not transplant well, so propagate them from seeds, or move new plants in early spring on a trowelful of soil so the root is not disturbed.
Each flower forms a large seed pod that holds many tiny seeds, so self-sowing is easy. Icelandic poppies, in shades of yellow and orange, tolerate shade and can become invasive in woodland areas, so enjoy the ground cover or thin them ruthlessly. Don't add the seed pods to the compost or you will have poppies growing everywhere, like dandelions.
15. Alchemilla Mollis Lady's Mantle
Lady’s Mantle loves sun and tolerates some shade at the edges of treed areas. Its wide leaves look beautiful after rain, glistening with small drops of water.
Lilies are versatile and easy to grow. They come in a wide range of varieties and colours. Propagate from basal divisions or by seed.
17. Sea Holly
Sea holly's unusual flowers come in shades of blue and pink and are attractive to bees and butterflies. They are striking companion plants next to red-leaved plants like red garden lettuce, red basil, or the red leaves of smoke bush in the picture below.
Yarrow grows wild in dry grasslands and meadows and is an excellent plant for low-maintenance and low-water gardens. Its wild variety has white blossoms, and garden cultivars can be found in shades of red, yellow, orange, and pink. Bees and butterflies love yarrow, and the dried stalks add interest to the winter garden.
Campanula comes in many varieties, from creeping ground cover to stalks about 80 cm high. Colours range from blue to pink to white. It spreads easily and can be invasive.
Salvia forms neat, many-branched clumps of flowers in white, pink, or blue. the white variety, like this one pictured below, gleams in the late evening darkness, while the dark blue plant looks stunning paired with bright yellow coreopsis or yellow or orange marigolds.
21. Basket Flower (Gaillardia)
Basket Flower loves full sun, and the more sun it gets, the more abundant the flowers. It spreads easily from the roots. Propagate by moving divisions around the garden in spring.
22. Snow in Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
Snow in Summer is a low-lying plant that spreads to ground cover in rock gardens or slopes. With silver leaves and plentiful white flowers in May, it resembles late snowdrifts in early summer.
Summer Flowers to Plant
Once the perennials have matured into clumps of long-lived plants, fill in the spaces in your garden with mass plantings of a few types of annuals. Marigolds, verbena, pelargoniums, coleus, and lobelia in more shaded areas, are all excellent choices for the sunny garden. Then invite your friends over, make some mint tea, and enjoy your outdoor room.
What are your favourite plants for sun in your area? What is their appeal? Talk about them in the comments.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have a circular area approximately, with a ten-foot diameter in full sun. I think that I would like something showy and that will provide color all summer long. What about a few tall kinds of grass in the center surrounded by Russian sage?
Answer: That will be a beautiful combination, especially when it is windy and the grasses and sage stems dance dramatically. Try Karl Foerster feather reed grass or fountain grass. They both clump as they grow and don't spread invasively by underground rhizomes, as some grasses do.
janisgoad on September 29, 2015:
Iris, peonies love full sun. The best way is to try it in your garden. They flower early in the season (in June here, about 3 months after snow melts and the growing season begins). In your area they may flower earlier, and then go dormant. You can move it in the fall if the first place you try is too hot for them.
Iris Kramer on September 29, 2015:
we leave here in the south, and it's hot. I love peonies, will it survive in our area? And all the annual plants you said that is for summer will they grow in our state (tx) ?
Janis Goad (author) on July 09, 2012:
The right plant for the right place is the trick, isn't it. Sticking with plants that thrive in your local conditions is the way to have them thrive. Even with hot days here in the BC interior, nights are cool, and springs start late. We are just beginning our hot weather now, in July. So with cool springs, peonies flower and are done before the heat hits. They are one of my favourite plants, along with hosta for shade.
Thanks for visiting an commenting. I am enjoying meeting other hubbers who love to garden!
Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on July 08, 2012:
What beautiful examples you've posted here to go along with your sensible approach to perennial gardening! I wish I could grow liatrus, peony and lady's mantel with more success. It just gets too darn hot w/ the right sun exposure! What a delightful garden you must have! Thank you for the inspiration.
Janis Goad (author) on July 08, 2012:
Thanks for commenting, Rebecca! They may need watered more often in the heat wave. We are just starting to get our summer heat here in the interior of British Columbia.
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on July 08, 2012:
What pretty flowers! My poor zinnias are scorched because of the heat, so I kind of decided to move them in the shade during this heat wave. They are improving. Great Hub!