Favorite plants in July    

Asiatic Lillies. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

Gardening in July in North Carolina is not for the faint at heart. The heat and humidity have settled in, the roses are (for the most part) dormant and the daylilies, except for some late-blooming ones, have petered out, leaving me to wonder in awe at those plants brave enough to face July temperatures.

Throughout the hot nights, many plants have to work to bring adequate water supplies from the roots to the leaves so be on the lookout for those plants displaying exhaustion. A sure sign of heat exhaustion is a drooping in the early morning, indicating an immediate need for water. This year we have been fortunate to have had adequate rain.

I have three Crinum ‘Super Ellen’, all of which are putting on an amazing show. Crinums are the largest bulbs in the bulb family while ‘Super Ellen’ is the largest of the crinums. She always amazes me but this year, in particular, she has been spectacular. Why is she putting on such a show this year as opposed to other years? I have no idea.

Crinum “Super Ellen.” Photo by Kit Flynn.

Crinums are wonderful, deer-free plants that require very little work. Site them carefully as moving crinums is not an easy task. Established crinum bulbs are very large and crinums have been known to get very cranky when moved. Once I mistakenly cut Super Ellen’s leaves back in the fall – and she rewarded me by her refusal to bloom for two straight years.

She will flower consistently for me for eight straight weeks although her best performance is in July when she’s a mass of blooms. Just refrain from cutting her leaves back until February – that truly is her only demand. She’s not easy to find in nurseries so check Jenks Farmer and Plant Delights as they occasionally offer her.

Ten years ago, I planted five Asiatic lilies in a sunny spot. This clump has now grown to number fifty lilies that bloom in July. Now Asiatic lilies are not quite as showy as the Orienpets but en masse they are spectacular. Now do not confuse the Asiatic lilies with Oriental lilies as they are quite different.

Asiatic lilies typically are somewhat smaller than other lilies and have a subtle fragrance – if they have any at all. Many are early bloomers, casting forth their flowers in May and June. Mine always bloom in July after the Orienpets, those hybrids created by pairing trumpet lilies with Oriental lilies. Please note that we can grow the Orienpets but Oriental lilies require cooler summer nights than we can provide. A good place to purchase lilies is from The Lily Garden.

Like all bulbs, lilies must maintain their foliage in order to build up their energy supply to produce flowers for the next summer. Maintain the foliage until late September or early October. If the stalks are tall, you can safely remove one-third at the end of the blooming cycle.

The echinacea enchants me, primarily because I couldn’t grow this species for years. If you have trouble growing this plant, confer with Mt. Cuba Center’s research as its findings have served me well. Exceptional cultivars include E. purpurea ‘Pica Bella’ and ‘Fragrant Angel’. Both forgo the need for staking while producing long-lasting blooms.

Mt. Cuba Center’s research on phlox has also served me well. The genus contains 17 species that are native to the US and breeders are now concentrating on producing cultivars that are disease resistant and more compact, making them suitable for smaller gardens. The most common species is P. paniculata.

Because phlox is prone to powdery mildew, it’s important to choose a variety that is resistant to this unsightly disease. I have two large patches of P. paniculata ‘John Fanick’ that have a lovely aroma and are very attractive to butterflies. Unfortunately, this phlox also develops powdery mildew so it must be cut back right after it has finished blooming this month.

‘Robert Poore’, reputedly resistant to powdery mildew, alas, suffers from it in my garden. The one that has proven to be outstanding is the one that came out on top in the Mt. Cuba study: P. paniculata ‘Jeana’ – an added asset is that butterflies adore it. In a perfect world, I would laboriously take out the two large patches of ‘John Fanick’, replacing them with the powdery mildew free ‘Jeana’. Taking out phlox is not necessarily easy so I’m not sure I shall live in a perfect garden in a perfect world.

Plant phlox – and enjoy the butterflies. I find that the swallowtails in particular savor this native plant.

Above all, get out into the garden early before the temperature has risen to uncomfortable heights. You have already done the hard work. July gardening for me consists of good grooming practices for the plants. Go ahead and take a rest – you have earned it.

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