Tough, Easy, Ever-Blooming Garden Flowers

Black and Blue salvia (left), Twisted Red celosia (top right), and French marigolds (bottom right)

If you want reliable, carefree, long-blooming flowers that still perform through hot, dry summers, they are not difficult to find. The best are longtime garden favorites as well as exciting new varieties, which are bred for even greater beauty, easier care, and higher disease resistance. It’s always nice to mix old-favorites with the newest and coolest plants available. If it’s easy and ever-blooming, it’s welcome in my garden.

For the last several years, we have experienced extra hot, dry periods in August and September, where I live in Bloomington, Indiana, so I almost always look for drought and heat tolerant annual flowers. Here are some that I have found to be the best for both containers and garden beds.


Van Houttei scarlet sage is taller than most and has burgundy-red flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Big, sun-loving salvias always have a place in my garden, and my favorites tolerate tough conditions and still look beautiful. Of all the purple salvias, and there are many of them, there is one that I like the best, Black and Blue salvia (Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10 ). It reaches around 3 feet tall but can be cut back easily, and produces intense indigo-blue flowers with black bases (calyces) all summer long. Plant it in a large container or well-drained flower bed where you can see it through a window and watch hummingbirds visit its flowers. When passing by, rub one of its fragrant, anise-scented leaves between your fingers. Some years ‘Black and Blue’ has reseeded in my garden, with a few new plants coming up in the spring.

This year I will be adding Amante salvia (Salvia ‘Amante’, Zones 8-10) to my garden for its bright fuchsia flowers with very dark calyces. ‘Amante’ can grow to 4 feet, so I will put mine at the back of a daylily bed, which loses color at the end of June. A final, bold, tough salvia that I am getting for the first time this year is the old-fashioned Van Houttei red salvia (Salvia spendens ‘Van Houttei’, Zones 9-11). ‘Van Houttei has spikes of burgundy-red, tubular flowers and is beloved by hummingbirds. Another 4 footer, it will be in the back of a flower bed with some afternoon shade to keep it looking its best. Like most red salvia, it should be deadheaded on occasion.

African and French Marigolds

Marigold Big Duck Orange (Image by AAS Winners)

Good companion plants to these tall salvias would be 2-foot African marigolds (Tagetes erecta) planted around the base. I suggest 2019 All America Selections Winner Big Duck Orange, which has large, fluffy, tangerine-orange flowers that bloom all summer long and even up until frost.

Marigolds are traditional garden flowers because they are so effortless to grow, tolerant of the worst summer weather, and they come in many heights and amazing shades of orange, yellow, red. The two most common types at garden centers are tall African marigolds and shorter, bushier French marigolds (Tagetes patula), which are generally 8 to 12 inches high. French marigolds grow well in pots and garden edges Those in the Disco Series, which reach 10 inches and have extra-large, single flowers of gold, orange, and orange-red, are extra pretty. Plant Disco Mix to get all of the colors in one packet.

Marigolds do require some deadheading to keep in top shape, and they require full sun and average soil with good drainage. They’re good flowers to plant around the vegetable garden as well because they help ward off harmful pests, particularly tomato root-knot nematodes, which damage tomato roots. (Click here to learn more about companion planting with marigolds.)


Flamingo Feather spike celosia is a resilient, long bloomer.

Celosias love sun and heat! Spike celosia (Celosia spicata) is a very long-blooming choice with flowers of pink, white, or burgundy. It looks great even on the hottest days and tolerates drought very well. ‘Flamingo Feather’ is a long-standing variety that reaches 2.5 feet and bears spikes of pinkish flowers until fall.

Classic plume celosia (Celosia cristata var. plumosa) and cockscomb celosia (Celosia cristata var. cristata) have beautiful flowers that come in two distinct shapes, upright fluffy plumes and those that resemble cockscombs.  The flowers come in red, orange, yellow, deep rose, pink, and white and vary in height from 6 inches to 3 feet, depending on the variety. A long-time favorite plume celosia is the classic, award-winning ‘New Look‘ with its glowing red, 18″ plumes and purplish leaves. The scarlet ‘Twisted Red’ is a high-performing cockscomb type from Proven Winners that blooms continuously and reaches 18 inches.

In sunlight, celosia blooms are iridescent.  They need full sun, well-drained soil, and attract butterflies. Plant them in containers or flower borders


Supertunia® Vista® Bubblegum is a very high performer. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Good breeding has transformed the ordinary Petunia into something fantastic, the Supertunia®. The petunias in this series are drought-tolerant, heavy blooming, self-cleaning (no deadheading), and unbelievable. There are many types in a wide array of sizes and colors.

Supertunia Vista® varieties mound to 2 feet and trail or spread to 4 feet, making them perfect container or front-of-the-border flowers. Supertunia Vista® Bubblegum is a best-seller due to its high vigor and prolific bubblegum-pink flowers. Supertunia® Black Cherry has gorgeous deep-red flowers that fade into an almost black center.

Last year Proven Winners sent me Supertunia® Mini Vista Violet Star plants to try, which have small purple-and-white-striped flowers, as well as some colorful Calibrachoa Superbells® varieties. The plants looked similar until the heat hit. All my other Superbells started looking stressed in the hot summer weather, but Mini Vista Violet Star was gorgeous all season. All of the Mini Vistas have small flowers, like Calibrachoa, but are heat and drought-resistant, so they will be my choice from now on.

Profusion Zinnias

Zinnia ‘Profusion Red’ is a 2017 AAS Winner.

Zinnias are a real mainstay of the hot, dry, sunny garden.  There are zinnias of many heights and habits, but I grow only one type, those in the Profusion series.  They were a real breakthrough when they were first introduced in the early 1990s because compact, spreading Profusion zinnias are everblooming, tough as nails, and very disease resistant. Depending on the variety, the plants become covered with cherry, gold, fire (bright orange-red), apricot, or white flowers all summer. Garden centers sell them or you can grow your own from seed. Seeds for the Profusion AAS Mix contains three award-winners, Profusion Orange, Cherry, Red, and White.

Planting and Caring for Annuals

‘Twisted Red’ celosia is a great cockscomb type from Proven Winners.

At planting time, be sure that you site your plants in the best location for their growing needs, and prepare their soil for planting. When planting in the garden, amend the soil with Black Gold Garden Soil, which has added fertilizer that feeds plants for up to 6 months. Mix it in uniformly with the ground soil at planting time. Then mulch to help keep weeds at bay and help hold in soil moisture.

When planting in containers, Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix is a great choice for potted flowers. Whether planting in pots or beds, I always add a quality, time-released fertilizer formulated for garden flowers, like Proven Winner Premium Continuous-Release Plant Food, which is formulated for flowers.

Being heat- and drought-tolerant does not mean plant and forget.  When watering garden plants, keep the soil moist, but not wet, until the plants are established, and then water them as needed as weather conditions become dry. After 1-2 weeks with no rain, everything will need to be watered.  Containers dry out faster than the garden, especially when the plants are mature, so check them daily for water during the high heat of summer.

Everblooming Bedding Plants for Heat and Drought

Two Zinnias, ‘Macarenia’ and ‘Mazurkia’ , comprise the bright, heat-wise Sasiando Mix. (Photo care of National Garden Bureau)

Finding garden flowers that bloom effortlessly through the hot, dry summer months can be a challenge for those new to gardening. So many popular bedding plants are tender and water needy. Impatiens, coleus, dahlias and even petunias will quickly flag when the heat and drought ramps up. But, have no fear. Lots of bedding plants will make it through the worst of the summer weather. Some even shine—blooming effortlessly all summer long.

National Garden Bureau Agastache-Arizona-Sun
Arizona Sun is one tough, pretty bedding plant that offers continuous color and attracts hummingbirds. (Photo care of National Garden Bureau)

When choosing “hot” summer flowers, I like to think of their origins. Resilient selections come from sultry climates, like Mexico, Africa, the American South, and hot, dry regions in the Mediterranean. They’re adapted to hot weather. Agastache, angelonia, cuphea, salvia, marigolds, and zinnias are several excellent choices. Exciting varieties are generated each year, making it easy to fill the garden with beautiful flowers sure to shine.

Hummingbird Mint

Hummingbirds love the sunny flowers of agastache (otherwise known as hummingbird mint) and the blooms shine through summer in containers or garden beds. They’ve been a standby in my garden for the last 20 years because they are so beautiful, fragrant and easy. Many new resilient varieties make gardening and crafting colorful flower combos easier than ever. The new Agastache Arizona™ Sun and Arizona™ Sandstone, with their gold and soft orange blooms and foot-high statures, will bloom through hot, dry weather and mix well with many similarly tough garden flowers. Though hybrids, the parent plants originate from the American Southwest—a testament to their ability to take the heat.

The bright flowers of Cuphea Vermillionaire continue until frost. (Photo care of Proven Winners)


The Mexican native narrowleaf angelon (Angelonia angustifolia) produces snapdragon-like spikes of white, purple and pink flowers through summer months. Of these, the carefree bloomers in the Serena™ Series have won multiple awards (Mississippi Medallion Award, Dallas Arboretum FlameProof Award, Louisiana Super Plants Award) for their high performance and ability to stand up to summer heat. The breeders claim: “Plants grow up to 50% larger in Floridalike conditions.”

Firecracker Plant

Gardeners with large, sunny, South-facing beds should consider planting the big, bushy firecracker plant, Cuphea Vermillionaire™. New from Proven Winners, the bushy plants reach around two feet and become laden with lots of orange-red, tubular flowers that are a hummingbird mainstay. A strong tendency to rebloom until frost makes this a superb bedding plant as does its high tolerance to hot, dry weather.

Scarlet Sage

In late summer, I always rely on colorful scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) to add bright garden color up until frost. And, these natives of the American South and Mexico are made for hummingbirds! The tall species gently self-sows, so I simply dig the seedlings and place them where I want them, but that doesn’t keep me from planting a few choice varieties as well. The AAS- and Fleuroselect-winning varieties in the Summer Jewel™ series are compact (reaching one and a half to two feet), bloom continuously, and come in shades of red, pink, and white.

NGB Salvia_SummerJewelWhite-AAS2015-2-crop
The award-winning Salvia Summer Jewels White is a great continuous bloomer for hot, dry places! (Photo care of the National Garden Bureau)


Once established, marigolds are made for summer with their nonstop flowers in flame colors. The tall, Garland Orange African marigold (Tagetes erecta ‘Garland Orange’) bears huge, long-stemmed flowers on strong, bushy plants less apt to topple over in the wind. Plants reach three feet, making them a great choice for colorful, back-of-the-border fillers.


There’s always a place in my garden for zinnias. Not only do they make great cut flowers, but newer varieties flower effortlessly with little deadheading (removal of old blooms). The new Sasiando mix, which comprises Zinnia ‘Macarenia’, with gold and orange double blooms, and ‘Mazurkia’, with ivory and red double blooms, attracts butterflies in a big show of flowers. Both are high performers in sweltering summer weather and their bushy plants reach two to three feet. Deadheading is not necessary but may keep plants looking prettier.

Plant a few of these water- and heat-wise plants and your flower garden will be smiling through even the most scorching days of summer, with moderate care and watering. Give them a boost with an OMRI Listed flower food and top-dress with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and keep the sunny blooms and bouquets coming!