If you’re looking for full sun plants that don’t need much maintenance, you’ve come to the right place. A sunny outdoor space can be a blessing as most flowering garden plant species need full sun to thrive. However, add intense heat to the sun and it can become difficult to keep plants alive. Fortunately, some plants have evolved to tolerate both direct sun and heat, for weeks or even months at a time.
These plants will do very well planted in sunny garden borders, in raised beds, or next to sunny walls. Best of all, you won’t need to worry about keeping them alive. All of these are recommended by professional gardeners with experience of growing plants in hot and arid climates.
The best full sun plants for heat that are low-maintenance
According to Karen Musgrave, a certified New York State Nursery & Landscape professional at Hicks Nurseries (opens in new tab), sedum ‘is one of the best plants to use in hot, sunny areas. They are tough plants that can handle almost any condition. The stems and leaves have a truly interesting look that is striking even before the flowers arrive. Sedum is drought tolerant and looks great in garden beds, along sunny walkways and in planters.’
Sedums come in several types, ‘from tall, upright varieties down to low-growing groundcovers.’ They’re hardy, too, and perennial, so sedums come back every year and require ‘very little maintenance.’
Coneflower, or echinacea, has been a sunny garden favorite for generations for a reason. It ‘adds a big bang of color to the garden with its bright, summer blooms. It’s the perfect option for a sunny garden and requires little maintenance once established.’ Coneflowers are known for their medicinal properties - the flowers can be dried and used as an immune system-boosting herbal infusion. Coneflower also ‘makes a great cut flower for bouquets and is a favorite of butterflies and birds’, according to Musgrave.
Yarrow is ‘a great option for hot, dry gardens. It has flat-topped flowers that bloom late spring to late summer and is a known favorite of butterflies.’ Yarrow is also deer resistant, which is a bonus if you live rurally in an area where deer are common. Yarrow is ‘available in many striking colors such as yellow, red and pink.’
4. Perennial herbs
Many drought-tolerant herbs thrive in full sun with hardly any maintenance, aside from an annual prune. They’re completely the opposite of tender-leaved herbs like parsley and basil. Kate Russell, Author of Stop Wasting Your Yard! (opens in new tab) and owner of The Daily Garden (opens in new tab) gardening blog points out that ‘Many herbs thrive in hot, dry weather and most of them prefer being left alone. Thyme, rosemary, and sage perform very well in hot weather and poor soil.’ Rosemary is a great - and underused - herb garden plant for hedges and green fence ideas, while sage comes in many varieties, both edible and ornamental.
If you haven’t grown Lantana and live in a hot, sunny climate, it’s well worth a try. Jen Stark, a master gardener and the founder of Happy DIY Home (opens in new tab), praises lantana as one of her favorites because it ‘ loves it humid and hot, and it grows best in well-draining soil that you keep moist. It can also withstand drought conditions.’ Unlike many plants that get scorched by hot afternoon sun, Lantana ‘loves’ it and ‘ it'll bloom all year round to produce clusters of pink, yellow, orange, white, or red flowers. It works well planted along a vegetable garden edge because they draw in pollinators like bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.’
If you want something with a lot of colorful impact, cosmos is the one for you. It has ‘very showy, tall annuals that have daisy-like, silky flowers.’ Native to Mexico, cosmos can tolerate both drought and heat. It can even be planted for xeriscaping or as part of a desert garden ‘or in areas that have poor soil.’ Stark says that cosmos flowers ‘actually don't like very rich soil as it makes them floppy and weak-stemmed. They'll help inject a lot of color into any bed that you neglected, and they require little or no maintenance to bloom.’
Everyone should grow marigolds for bright color in full sun: ‘they're great as bedding plants or in containers, come in hues of yellow and orange, they're easy to grow, and they bloom during the summer and fall months when other plants are starting to die out. They need full sun and a well-draining soil, and you should water them thoroughly at the root zone.’
Verbena is very useful when planted in a wildlife garden, as the flowering varieties are beloved by bees. Erinn Witz, a garden expert/co-founder of Seedsandspades.com (opens in new tab), highly recommends purple-flowering verbena as it ‘does well in dry conditions.’
Hibiscus is common in the Mediterranean and can happily go months without rain in full sun, while producing beautiful bright red or pink flowers. Richa Kedia Gardening Enthusiast & Lead Writer at Simplifyplants (opens in new tab), says that ‘hibiscus must be grown under full sun and does its best with 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Being an easy-to-care-for plant, it is perfect for beginners as well.’
10. Jade plant
You may know the jade plant as one of the best indoor plants, but it’s actually a succulent that can be grown very successfully outdoors. Kedia explains that ‘with thick and glossy leaves, the jade plant is one such plant that can be grown in a hot arid climate.’ The best part? It’s both a sun and shade plant: so long as it gets around three hours of sun a day, it’ll be fine on the side of your backyard that gets mostly shade throughout the day.
Which plants are high maintenance and best avoided in a sunny garden?
While many plants love full-sun and will happily grow in a sunny spot with very little maintenance needed, not all are easy to care for. Musgrave suggests gardeners avoid wisteria. Although it produces beautiful flowers, the vining branches are quite strong and can damage arbors and gazebos over time.’
Kate Russell adds that ‘orchids and invasive plants can create far more work than they are worth.’
We’ll add hydrangeas to the list of plants that should be avoided at all costs in a hot, sunny garden – as their name suggests, they need a lot of water to thrive, and they hate hot afternoon sun. Definitely avoid.
What is the best perennial for full sun?
It’s hard to pick just one, but we’d recommend rosemary. It can tolerate a lot of neglect, is brilliant for pollinators and even as a living hedge plant.