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Gardening for Summer Highs and Lows

It’s been a hot and dry summer here in my New Jersey garden. There have been some highs and lows while gardening for summer this year. Wait until you see and hear what’s going on in my gardening zone 6a climate.


Let’s face it.

Sometimes bad weather happens to good gardens.

We started out pretty strong here in my new gardens this spring and in the early parts of summer.

And then?

Excessive heat and no rain struck several areas of New Jersey.

My container gardens are not loving it. The lawn is not loving it. And several garden plants have taken a beating this summer.

Even some of my shrubs and trees are in distress.

So today, we are covering the highs and lows in my summer garden.

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The Best Parts About Gardening For Summer

Probably the best part about gardening for summer is the heat and humidity for summer-loving annuals and houseplants.

While it’s been excessively hot and dry here, we had some gardening wins that are worth noting.

I mean, can you believe how many flowers and plants are here? When you see how much the gardens have changed over the last year, it’s really remarkable.

We first saw this property way back in October 2021 and closed in December. The leaves were falling and it was the end of the growing season.

I mean, I knew this property was a gem but I did not know HOW MUCH of a gem it really is for someone who enjoys gardening.

front porch and small cottage garden of 1850 farmhouse with hardy hibiscus and sunflowers

Houseplants

My houseplants LOVE this time of year when they get to summer outdoors, grow and enjoy the New Jersey humidity.

It’s been a bit of a challenge learning where best to maintain them here at the new house, but they are acclimating well.

Since we are still new here, it took me a while to get them all outdoors because I didn’t want to risk them scorching in the sun.

houseplants in the backyard zen garden with yellow house in gardening zone 6a New Jersey

So I took my time bringing them out until I was sure I understood the light conditions.

But now that they are outside, they are doing amazing! My houseplants love the humidity and are thriving in their new summer vacation spot.

So I would say, all of my houseplants have been a gardening for summer success!

front porch in summer with zinnias and houseplants with vintage sign and porch rockers
Houseplants on the front porch with fresh cut zinnias
close up of the conversation set on the back porch in my outdoor living spaces home tour with houseplants, flowers, sun hat, cozy blankets and mustard colored house
Houseplants on the back porch

Hardy Hibiscus

When we moved here, I had NO IDEA there were so many hardy hibiscus here. My neighbor told me about some plant that came up that was big and beautiful but wasn’t sure what it was.

So I waited to find out.

And as I saw the plants branch out, I realized what was here and was very excited about it.

I was growing a few in my former garden, but lacked the space to plant en masse as they are here.

Hardy hibiscus planted en masse with tree sculpture and hydrangea paniculata
pink hardy hibiscus in the front yard garden

And what a statement they make!

They were hit with Japanese Beetles pretty badly but I kept on it before the summer temperatures rose and that significantly helped them.

At one point they were also covered in spotted lanternfly nymphs that I battled with insecticidal soap once week to get rid of them too.

As we move into fall, I am planning to put down milky spore in the front yard lawn and will start overseeding with tall fescue to cut down on the Japanese beetle population long term.

close up of hardy hibiscus flower

Sunflowers

My sunflowers would be listed under both the highs and lows because I planted over 100 of them but the bunnies took quite a few of them out.

But I’m happy to report that two survived by the front porch and I squeaked a sunflower border in along the driveway.

That sunflower display is spectacular!

I was very surprised the bunny did not take them out here and I’m so glad I planted the extras in here at the last minute. They were intended for other gardens and at the last minute, I just threw the last batch in here along the driveway.

They are big, they are bold, they are bright, and they are beyond GORGEOUS!

close up of sunflowers
Sunflowers
Sunflowers and Seniorita Zinnias by stone wall

Bottlebrush Buckeye

Have you ever walked through the nursery or perused a garden catalogue where you think to yourself, “Hmmm that’s a cool plant I should get it?

But you pass by it, forget about it, and don’t give it a second thought?

I have SEVERAL of those plants here, and the bottlebrush buckeye is one of them.

I noticed it pretty early on in the season and had no idea what it was. It started to leaf out and I still wasn’t totally certain what it was.

And because there are so many other plants growing, blooming and doing things I haven’t seen before, I sort of ignored it and passed on by.

butterflies on a bottlebrush buckeye shrub

As the bottlebrush blooms started to form, I looked it up and identified it by the foliage and flower shapes. Interestingly, it was a plant I saw many many years ago in a plant catalog thought it was super cool but never did anything about it.

It wasn’t a regular at the local nursery either so I pretty much forgot it.

Well let me tell you…if you want a plant that attracts LOADS of butterflies? You need this plant in your life.

Good heavens was this a glorious show for weeks! You’ve got to check out my Instagram and TikTok to see them in action because a picture does not do it justice.

I highly recommend a bottlebrush buckeye if it can withstand your hardiness zone. Just be sure to check with your local cooperative extension that it is not on their naughty list of what not to plant in your gardening zone.

swallowtail butterfly on bottlebrush buckeye

Zinnias

Also a favorite this summer, are the zinnias I started from seed indoors. I grew some of my favorites from last year plus a few newbies.

‘Benary’s Giant Wine’ and ‘Seniorita’ Zinnias are looking their best and have not been mowed down by the bunnies as much as the others I planted.

Last year, ‘Benary’s Giant Wine’ stole my heart and while it still has it, this year I’m all about the ‘Seniorita’.

With different textures and shades of pink, they look incredible in the garden and cut in a vase.

close up of seniorita zinnia
‘Seniorita’ Zinnia

The bees and butterflies have been all over them. And I’ve seen a few hummingbirds drop by as well.

They took really well in the small cottage garden by the front porch and for whatever reason, the bunny did not touch the ‘Senioritas’.

They mowed down the ‘Queen Lime’ and ‘Zinderellas’ but left the ‘Seniorita’ alone.

Swallowtail butterfly on a Seniorita Zinnia
Close up of Seniorita Zinnias and sunflowers by front porch
Sunflowers and zinnias outside the front porch

Snapdragons

I was surprised that well into summer, even with the heat, my snapdragons were still performing well.

I’ve been cutting them all season long and it wasn’t until the last week or so, that they started looking a little tired.

With cooler temperatures on the horizon, I’m hoping they bounce back in September so I can continue cutting them well into fall.

Close up of snapdragons in front yard cottage garden
Sunset in small cottage garden with snapdragons and superwave petunias

Gardening for Summer Surprise in the Small Cottage Garden

When I was interviewing landscapers to help mow the expansive lawn here, I connected with the former caretaker who had photos of the gardens from several years ago.

I noticed the small cottage garden was maintained for annuals where they grew lots of celosia and amaranth.

While I planted a new garden here with perennials and annuals (including my seed starts) I noticed some plants peeking through that I did not plant and weren’t sure what they were.

Other side of the small cottage garden in August

I resisted the urge to weed them out and allowed them to grow where they were.

And you know what?

They are different varieties of pink celosia.

So I’ve been cutting them as well to enjoy in summer flower arrangements sprinkled throughout my home.

close up of yarrow and coneflowers
Yarrow and coneflowers
Celosia, snapdragons and sunflowers in small cottage garden

As an aside, this garden has been highlight for me overall. It was something I decided to plant last minute and I LOVE how it looks this year with the views.

Sunsets have been particularly beautiful here.

And I can’t wait to see this garden evolve as the years go on.

small cottage garden near the front porch with yarrow, coneflowers, seniorita zinnias and more.

The Lows of Gardening for Summer

Since New Jersey experienced extreme heat for several weeks with no rain, there is a lot of heat and drought stress among the plants.

The trees started turning yellow and dropping leaves.

And some of my shrubs look so bad I’m concerned they may not survive.

white hydrangea flowers
Hydrangeas before

Hydrangeas

When we first moved here, I was a little concerned about the mophead hydrangeas because several are planted in what I thought would be full sun.

Mopheads prefer morning sun and afternoon shade, so I thought the leaves would scorch.

And you know what?

I was right. The extreme summer heat was a little much for my macrophylla hydrangeas, so I need to move them when I begin fall gardening.

We also have what I believe are Annabelle hydrangeas in the backyard and they looked beautiful for most of the summer. But the extended summer heat and drought conditions took their toll on them.

I relied on the irrigation system we have to keep them going, but I don’t know that they are taking in the water needed to survive. So the last several weeks, I’ve been back there with a hose to keep them alive.

And while I’ve lost the aesthetic for this season, I’m praying they just make it.

scorched hydrangeas from extreme heat and dry weather in New Jersey garening zone 6a
Crispy hydrangeas – so sad

The Lawn

Also a low this season, is the lawn. It is completely brown in some areas. And it too gets watered with irrigation.

We are still learning how much to use and when here, but even long good soakings more often were not good enough to keep some of these areas green.

We were also very mindful of not watering often with drought like conditions the last few weeks so it is what it is at this point.

It’s been a tough balance so we’ll need to overseed the lawn in some spots. The good news is I was planning to do that anyway because of the Japanese Beetle problem.

brown lawn from excessive heat and drought conditions with cottage garden

Container Gardens in the Zen Garden

I kept the container gardens in the zen garden going for as long as I could. But the excessive heat has been too much for them.

And if I’m being completely honest here, I’m tired of taking care of my outdoor planters every day.

So I’m letting it go until I can replant them in the fall.

They don’t all look terrible, they’re green, but they are not what they were for most of the summer.

So I’ll be making a few tweaks to them as we move into September.

container gardens in the zen garden have seen better days - result of extreme heat and no rain
The container gardens don’t look horrible but they struggle the last few weeks after the extreme weather we had this summer.

You can see how much the trees are stressed from all of the dried yellow leaves on the ground.

It’s been looking more like fall here lately but you’d never know it from the heat we’ve been having.

Overall the zen garden doesn’t look terrible but I wish the flowers stuck around. I’m looking forward to sprucing up the containers in a few weeks for autumn.

zen garden in August after no rain and extremely high heat in gardening zone 6a new jersey garden
koi pond in zen garden with garden statue and japanese maple

Larkspur

Another plant I started from seed that did very well at the start is larkspur. It’s such a pretty flower for bouquets and looks beautiful in a cut flower garden.

Larkspur did not love the summer heat and the bunny completely decimated the ones I planted in the new cottage garden in early spring so I didn’t have many flowers to speak of for very long.

They are super easy to winter sow or start from seed indoors, but I am likely not going to start as many next season.

close up of larkspur
At one point, the larkspur looked amazing in the small cottage garden

New Cottage Garden

Speaking of the new cottage garden by the pool, its been underwhelming for me. So I reframed my thinking about it and for now, this garden will be a feeder garden for the rest of the property as I pull it together.

The drainage isn’t great here, so my salvias are not fans. They prefer a bit drier conditions so I’m moving them out in the fall. Luckily they survived, but didn’t perform the way that they should.

As I mentioned earlier, the bunny was big problem in this garden. It mowed down blazing star, all of the larkspur and a majority of the zinnias. So I’ll need to address this and plant a little smarter next year.

close up of swallowtail butterfly on blazing star
Blazing Star

With planting smarter, I will also be planting more en masse as this is a larger garden than needs swaths of color, foliage, and texture from larger groupings of the same plant.

When I purchased perennials to plant here in spring, it was starting to add up, so I only bought three of different plants intending to expand them in the future.

That said, I’m planning to dig and divide perennials that I’ve seen come up in other gardens here, so to me, this bed is a work in progress.

It still looks pretty, but it’s just OK for me. Give it a few years though and it will be spectacular once I get it going.

new cottage garden with green picket fence with sunflowers, snapdragons, superwave petunias and coneflowers
New Cottage Garden

Walking the Gardens at Sunset

While there have been some ups and downs, I have to mention how wonderful it is to walk the property here.

(When it’s not 100 degrees that is).

We’ve enjoyed some lovely evening strolls at sunset when the light hits the gardens just so.

It’s become a bit of a thing where we’ll hang out in the zen garden, feed the koi, and then head over to front yard koi pond to check on the shubunkin goldfish.

Then we’ll walk down to get the mail and stroll the rest of the grounds before calling it a day.

koi pond bridge and garden in August at sunset

Koi Pond

This spot is truly a peaceful place. The zen garden is peaceful, but this garden comes in a close second for serenity and mindfulness.

My girls have brought their books out here to read and enjoy the scenery.

Chris and I hang out here with a glass of wine and watch the fish. And we love listening to the fountain and small waterfall.

front yard koi pond with foot bridge

With the extreme heat and lack of rain, we needed to add some water to the pond to keep it at a reasonable level.

Even after that time with the water snake, I am still maintaining the pond. I’m a bit more cautious about putting my hand in the filter now to clean it out. And I’ve run into the snake a few times since.

But we have an agreement.

If I don’t bother him, him won’t bother me and all is well in the front yard koi pond.

neighbors pond at sunset while walking to get the mail.
Our neighbor’s pond at sunset as we walk by to grab the mail

Formal Garden at Sunset

The formal garden has not seen an ounce of work from me aside from weeding every now and again, plus mowing.

The grass out there is partly browned out from the extreme weather.

But we enjoyed a beautiful stroll the other night at sunset.

walk toward the formal garden with garden statues, tree sculptures and gazebo at sunset

The Russian sage is blooming and looks amazing. I love to brush by and grab a whiff of its beautiful scent.

Someday I will plant this walkway. If you recall, there are daffodils in here, but I’d love to plant a perennial en masse.

Got any ideas? If so, let me know in the comments below.

It’s a shady location and herds of deer come through here, so it will need to be planted with something deer resistant and shade tolerant.

tree sculpture at sunset with russian sage and boxwoods

I have a new appreciation for the tree sculptures now that the landscape has greened up and filled in.

When we first moved in and there was no foliage, they stuck out to me. While I appreciated the art, I wasn’t sure about how I really felt about them.

But now?

I love the uniqueness that they add to the gardens even more. And it’s a great topic of conversation while strolling the beds.

gazebo in the formal garden at sunset with gazebo
Garden statue in the formal garden at sunset

And that’s it for today.

I hope you’ve been enjoying the journey of discovering all that’s here with me.

Until next time!

swallowtail butterfly on a butterfly bush
Swallowtail butterfly on a butterfly bush

Want to Tour the Front Garden in Real Time?

I shared a tour of the beds in my latest YouTube video that you can watch here.

See what’s more of what’s blooming…like the Mexican sunflowers I thought they bunny decimated.

And hear about my fall garden plans coming up in a few weeks.

Gardening for Summer – Preparing Dahlias for Winter

My good friend Kim from Shiplap and Shells shares her best tips for preparing dahlias for winter.

As we are approaching that time when the tubers will need to be dug up if it’s tender in your zone, these tips will help you lift and store them with ease.

That said, her gardens look incredible right now too! You’ve got to stop by and see what’s happening in her slice of heaven on the Puget Sound.

3 dahlias and greenhouse by shiplap and shells

Looking for More Flower Garden Ideas?

Here are more cut flower and cottage garden growing tips, tricks, and design inspiration.

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Enjoy a beautiful day! xo

Stacy Ling

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Home and Garden Blogger Stacy Ling cutting zinnia flowers in her cottage garden with wood picket fence in front of garden shed

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12 Comments

  1. Hi Stacy, always enjoy reading what you have to say!
    I’m planning on expanding my gardens next year. When you say planting smart, what exactly do you mean by that? I am overrun with bunnies and chipmunks!! I have gardens of chicken wire, and it looks atrocious
    Thank you for all you give to your followers! You can follow me on Instagram, lori_l_kwas

    Happy gardening
    Lori Kwasniewski

    1. Thank you Kim! Planting smart means planting things bunnies are less likely damage. I’m new to them destroying plants so I’ve got to look into that a little more. I’m more of an expert on gardening around deer. A lot of it is trial and error too to see what works for you and your garden. We can try to plant things they tend to leave alone, but it’s never a guarantee unfortunately.

  2. It has been a hot and dry summer in the Mitten too! So sorry to hear about your hydrangeas! I have to say your hibiscus are gorgeous! 💖

  3. Your gardens are spectacular! We have had extreme heat hear as well. My garden has really taken a beating. Hugs to you, my friend.

  4. Sorry your summer heat and lack of rain are taking a toll on your garden but it stil) looks great for the hardest month of all. It has been said anyone can have a good looking garden in May but a true gardener can have a goodlooking garden in August.
    Keep an eye on your Tithonia.I have grown it for the butterflies for years and they can reach 7ft tall and almost as wide.
    As for your shady border where you have daffodils planted how about hellebores, astilbe and ferns. If not heavy shade you could use daylilies which won’t bloom as heavily but will have better looking foliage.

  5. Great post Stacy. We have faced the same issues here. Extreme heat and no water. Considering the circumstances, you have done an incredible job keeping it all together.

  6. Those Japanese Beetles sound like quite the pests. I’m noticing a lot of leaf cutters on my plants. I have had such a great time watching you find gardening treasures this year in a new garden. The extreme heat definitely took its toll on so many gardens this year. Our garden had many crazy surprises this year for the exact opposite reason. I’m already looking forward to next year and planning for what changes I will make.