The heat is on: Our 10 favorite perennials that laugh at St. Louis’ heat and humidity

By Kim Reiss, Sugar Creek Gardens

With last summer still burned into our brains (pun intended), gardeners are probably replacing a number of dead plants this spring – I know I am. My garden last year was in survival mode – every plant for itself – so it was interesting to see what actually thrived, and what shriveled up like a marshmallow on fire.

One of the best gardening practices that we share with our customers is to “Put the right plant in the right place.” If you have a wet, sunny spot, then look for plants that thrive in wet sun. Yes, you can experiment with plant placement, and even have good luck doing it, but if you’re watching your plant budget, it’s just common sense to garden smart.
Here’s a list of our top 10 favorite “St. Louis’ Heat Lovers” that are guaranteed to thrive in this oven we call St. Louis.

Coneflowers – They’re tall, short, single-petaled, frilly petaled, and come in almost every color. Coneflowers are also long bloomers, drought-tolerant, and birds eat the seed heads.
Butterfly Bush ‘Flutterby’ Pink – This dwarf variety, topping out at 3’ tall and wide, is known for its flower size – a staggering 18” long and 4” wide panicle! It requires little water once established, and with its fragrant blooms, butterflies will truly flutter by.
Yarrow – Another great performer under duress, yarrow comes in many colors and heights, and with a haircut every now and then, will re-bloom throughout the summer.
Russian Sage – My #1 favorite heat lover, Russian Sage has a grace and beauty to it every day of the year – in July, and covered in snow in January.
Native plants – You can’t beat natives for ease of care. And one reason they’re so heat tolerant is because of their deep roots – some roots as long as 4’-8’ deep! Consider the yellow coneflower, the compass plant, and the rattlesnake master.

Bishop’s Hat or Fairy Wings – A versatile, slow-spreading groundcover that has the sweetest flowers of all in spring. Its foliage is also semi-evergreen, making it an important winter plant, too.
Lenten Rose – I give Lenten roses as gifts sometimes, just so I can spread the joy of this little-known winter-flowering perennial. And its foliage is evergreen, holding its spot in the garden year-round.

Big Root Geranium – These scented perennial geraniums make a wonderful groundcover filled with pink/purple blooms in the spring. As an added bonus, the foliage turns brilliant red in the fall.
Lily of the Valley – It may be an old-fashioned plant, but you can’t beat it for filling in a dry shady spot in the garden. It can be invasive, so consider the ramifications if you plant it.
Native plants – Once again, for plants requiring little or no maintenance, consider the ostrich fern, celandine poppy, or wild sweet William.

If you have a favorite that’s not mentioned here, plant it! Hydrangeas probably won’t make anyone’s list of heat-tolerant shrubs, but that won’t stop me from planting and enjoying them. If one happens to die, that just gives me an excuse to try another one…
Kim is a manager at Sugar Creek Gardens in Kirkwood and is president of the St. Louis Hydrangea Society.

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