Afternoon sun is challenging. Direct sunlight between midday and sunset is the most intense, hottest, often driest exposure. Although some plants are labeled for “full sun,” extended exposure in that hot afternoon sun may be too intense. This is especially so if the sunlight is further intensified by a wall or fence that traps and reflects the sun’s heat during the day, then continues to radiate heat after sundown. These tough areas require tough plants.
Since every landscape is unique, there could be a variety of solutions to dealing with excessive sun exposure. Perhaps there is ample space to reduce the sun’s intensity by shading the area with trees or large shrubs. Or maybe the home entrance faces west and needs a few nice foundation plants or an accent flower bed for curb appeal. Regardless of the scenario, this list of afternoon sun plants offers a variety of solutions.
Large shade trees
If space permits, planting a shade tree can help. Trees that grow tall cast pockets of shade that move across the landscape as the angle of the sun changes through the day. The temporary shade that they provide gives smaller plants a bit of a break from the heat, and helps the adjacent soil to retain more moisture. For easy maintenance, choose tree species like Celtis occidentalis (Common Hackberry), or Acer rubrum (Red Maple), that won’t drop large fruits, nuts, or flowers.
Small flowering trees
Flowering trees add ornamental beauty and structural interest to the landscape. Many selections grow best in the understory beneath larger trees and struggle in locations with intense sun and heat. But Malus species (Flowering Crabapple) and Lagerstroemia indica (Crepe Myrtle) are two plants that can tolerate late afternoon sun and reward you with gorgeous bloom displays.
If the landscape is a room, then evergreen shrubs are the furniture. Often used to accent entryways, add interest to large wall expanses, or to create living screens, evergreen shrubs are vital to effective landscape design. Of course, not all perform well in intense light and heat. Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae) grows to a pillar shape that is ideal for creating privacy screens or accenting tall entryways and corners. Ilex crenata (Japanese Holly) features round, evergreen, boxwood-like leaves and a globe-shaped growth habit that makes an excellent landscape filler or neutral screen to highlight low growing shrubs or perennials in front.
Flowering shrubs, whether evergreen or deciduous, add seasonal interest to the landscape with their bloom displays and, in many cases, foliage color. Layer them in foundation plantings among evergreen shrubs, or use them to create accents and focal points throughout the landscape. Choose flowering shrubs that will tolerate afternoon sun and give multiple ornamental seasons. Numerous cultivars of Abelia chinensjis (Abelia) offer green or variegated, evergreen to semi-evergreen foliage, and either pink or white flowers in midsummer. Itea virginica (Sweetspire) displays white flower panicles in early summer, brilliant burgundy foliage in autumn, and red stems through the winter.
Perennials are herbaceous plants that grow back from the root year after year. Most are planted for their weeks-long flower displays. Include different species that bloom in spring, summer, and fall, as well as different plant sizes and flower types for a dynamic display that changes throughout the growing season. The best perennial afternoon sun plants are both sun loving and drought tolerant. Salvia nemorosa (Meadow Sage) grows low to the ground, and produces purple flower spikes in spring. Coreopsis auriculata (Tickseed) produces a profusion of golden yellow flowers in late spring to early summer. Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) is a tall midsummer bloomer with pinkish purple flowers. Hylotelephium telephium (Autumn Joy Sedum) is a mid-height succulent that produces pink buds in late summer, followed by red flowers in fall.
Annual flowers live out their complete life cycle in one growing season. Use them in compact flower beds or container plantings to add intense, consistent color from spring through fall. There are lots of choices of annual plants for afternoon sun. Catharanthus roseus (Annual Vinca), is a compact, upright plant with intense flower colors including white, red, pink, and purple. Pentas lanceolata (Pentas) grow upright stems with terminal clusters of tiny white, red, or pink star-shaped flowers. Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose) is a low-spreading succulent plant that produces round one-inch diameter flowers in yellow, red, or orange tones.
Afternoon sun can be tough to manage, but some plants love it. Choose the right plants and you’ll enjoy a beautiful, thriving sunny landscape.
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