Steve Huddleston, Senior Horticulturist, Fort Worth Botanic Garden Photograph Anne K Moore
Once July and August roll around, many summer-blooming annuals and perennials, like people, begin to languish under the intense summer heat. Many plants do their best just to hang on. Some plants, however, rise to the occasion at this time of the year and put on their best show. Enjoy the thrilling surprise of six plants that burst into bloom during July-August.
Evergreen Wisteria (Milettia reticulata)
Evergreen wisteria sports dark green, leathery, compound leaves that remain green throughout the year. Terminal clusters of reddish-purple flowers appear in mid-summer, persisting until fall, and have a slight fragrance of mothballs. The vine reaches a mature height of 15’ and a width of 10’. With age, the vine develops woody trunks and branches that require a sturdy support. Evergreen wisteria prefers full sun and thrives in zones 8 to 10. Give it protection from the cold in zone 7.
Surprise Lily (Lycoris squamigera)
Native to China and Japan, this perennial bulb adapts well to Texas conditions and makes a surprising and stunning display in the late summer garden. Strap-like foliage appears fall through spring and dies back in late spring. Then, all of sudden in late summer, bare stems emerge from the ground and reach a blooming height of 18-24”. The 3”-long, rosy-pink flowers appear in clusters of four or more, resemble flared trumpets, and last about two weeks. These bulbs persist for years with no care and provide lovely color when little else is in bloom. Plant in sun to partial shade in any well-drained soil. Bulbs are best planted in fall and may not bloom their first year. If you can’t find these bulbs locally, order online from bulb companies.
Philippine Lily (Lilium formosanum)
This lily native to Taiwan and the Philippines is one of the best hardy lilies for the entire state of Texas. It is hardy in zones 6-9 and adorns the garden in July and August with showy clusters of drooping, white, fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers that resemble Easter lily blossoms. Flowers last for about two weeks. Even after the flowers disappear, the seed capsules add visual interest to the plant the rest of the summer. Philippine lily reaches a height of 3-5’ and sports dark green, narrow leaves 8” long. Plant the bulb in the fall, to a depth of twice the height of the bulb, in light shade to full sun in any fertile, well-drained soil that has been enriched with organic matter.
Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora)
This vine hails from Japan and has adapted very well to Texas. It is semi-evergreen in north central Texas and can loose its leaves in a cold winter. Each leaf consists of 3-5 leaflets, and each leaflet is 2”-3” long by 1 ¼” wide. The leaves are leathery and shiny green. Sweet autumn clematis signals the end of summer by sporting billowy masses of creamy-white flowers that absolutely cover the vine and release a sweet, vanilla fragrance into the air late August through September. After flowering, silvery-gray, feathery seed heads appear and adorn the vine. Sweet autumn clematis is a vigorous grower that can easily cover a fence, trellis, or arbor within a growing season. This vine prefers morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled shade throughout the day. Cool the roots with shrubs, perennials, or ground covers at the base of the vine and mulch the roots with 2”-3” of organic mulch. Once established this vine has low water requirements and can even survive on rainwater alone. It’s hardy in zones 5 to 10 and has no serious insect or disease problems. This vine can self-seed in the landscape, and its growth often needs to be controlled.
Spider Lily (Lycoris radiata)
Also from Japan, these lilies spend most of the summer hibernating. Rains in late August or early September triggers their bare, 18”-tall stems to spring from the ground and produce a profusion of spidery, red flowers that last for about two weeks. Long, protruding stamens actually create the spidery look to these flowers. After the flowers disappear, foliage resembling that of mondo grass appears and persists until spring, at which point it dies down. Plant red spider lilies in a large drift in full sun or partial shade. They are beautiful coming up through groundcovers or planted among Southern wood ferns. These bulbs are hardy in zones 7 to 10, and newly planted bulbs often take two years to bloom.
Oxblood Lily (Rhodophiala bifida)
Native to Argentina, this gem of a bulb was brought into Texas by Germans who settled in the Hill Country. Some people call this bulb the schoolhouse lily because it blooms about the time school starts in late August or early September. Its crimson, trumpet-shaped flowers triggered by late summer/early fall rains definitely herald the approach of autumn. The flowering stalks reach a height of about 10”. After the flowers disappear, foliage resembling that of mondo grass emerges, persists through the winter, and dies down in late spring or early summer. Plant oxblood lilies in the fall in full sun to partial shade in any good garden soil. These bulbs even grow well in clay soil. Plant at a depth of three times the height of the bulb; if the neck of the bulb is very long, leave a small portion of the top of the neck exposed above the soil. Oxblood lily is one tough little bulb that does well in zones 6-10 and, once established, survives on normal rainfall. It naturalizes well and makes a great “pass along” plant to give friends, neighbors, and relatives.
Any of these late summer-blooming plants will add an element of surprise and beauty to your garden at a time when you’re ready to see something new burst into bloom. These “late bloomers” will invigorate you and your garden as they bring closure to a long, hot summer and signal the imminent changing of seasons.
Steve Huddleston is the senior horticulturist at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and co-author of the book Easy Gardens for North Central Texas.