The goal and the dilemma, for many homeowners, is to have all-season bloom in the garden. That means, after the azaleas have bloomed, hopefully, the show isn’t over. How do you accomplish this in Western North Carolina, where the blooming season can extend from April to October?
1. Don’t make it all about the perennials.
Nothing beats walking through the store’s perennial section. We have the best perennials for your garden, and our staff displays them like a cottage garden. It’s a great way to spend a lunch hour and an even better way to learn your perennials. A walk through the alphabetized aisles shows you what’s blooming now, what’s about to bloom, and what just finished. Think of it as the bloom-lino. After the dogwoods have bloomed out and the azaleas have faded, the woody bloom show isn’t over, though most homeowners assume it still, don’t forget that trees and shrubs add bloom to the garden, too. s. There are the roses, crape myrtles, ninebarks, golden rain trees, sourwoods, hydrangeas, abelias, spireas, deutzias, clethra, butterfly bushes, elderberries and more.
Shrubs and trees add blooms and bones to the garden, giving structure for the smaller perennials. They also take up more space. When you’re on a tight budget with a large area to fill, that’s a good thing.
Many shrubs and trees are a one-stop-shopping experience because they provide color throughout the season (bloom, berries, foliage, fall leaf color, beautiful bark). If you’re in a small space, don’t fret. Many shrubs are dwarf size, like the Pugster Butterfly bush, which is blooming now. It remains 2′ x 2′ and gives color all summer, and butterflies don’t discriminate against the smaller size. And yes, we’re talking about blooms in this blog, but consider shrubs like fothergilla that have spring bloom and fabulous fall color. Or the double-duty shrubs like Encore azaleas that bloom spring and fall.
And, if you’re in the shade, try foliage plants. Everillo Carex is an evergreen sedge that gives a lot of pop in the shade. Heucheras and heurcherellas are beautiful foliage plants that prefer dry shade. Abelias, ninebark, and some redbud trees have foliage colors that add to the garden long after the blooms have faded. Do stroll the perennial section. Just don’t get stuck there. Plants have a lot to add to the garden in more ways than just blooms.
2. Learn your perennials.
As mentioned above, the store is actually a great place to learn about perennials. As the season continues, the plant palette at the store changes, so it’s easy to see what perennials bloom when. Check out this link for a bloom calendar of perennials. Few perennials bloom all season, but there are some that do. ‘Rozanne’ geranium, named perennial of the century by the Royal Horticulture Society at the Chelsea 100th Flower Show blooms from spring to frost. Campanula’ Blue Waterfall,’ a bright, blue groundcover developed by the same folks (Blooms of Bressingham) that gave us Rozanne is also a continual bloomer. Gaura’ Siskiyou Pink’ and Gaura’ Whirling Butterflies’ are short-lived perennials (3-5 years) that will bloom continually from spring to frost. Like Nepeta’ Walker’s Low’, others blooms profusely in spring and then sporadically the rest of the season. And some perennials, like Helenium’ Mardi Gras’ start blooming late in the season (mid-to-late summer) and don’t stop until a hard frost arrives.
Other perennials give you more than bloom. Agastache’ Golden Jubilee’ has purple blooms and chartreuse leaves which continue to give show after the blooms are gone. Spiderwort’ Sweet Kate’ has that same color combination and can be cut back when the weather is super hot (July/August) completely for another bloom in fall. Penstemon’ Husker’s’ Red’ has burgundy leaves that give color to the garden long after the blooms are gone (though it blooms six weeks or more).
Learning your perennials, figuring out what blooms when, for how long, and if it blooms more than once can take some time and a bit of study, but what better way to spend a lunch hour than strolling through the perennials? And don’t forget, our staff is there to answer questions and help you find the best perennials for your garden.
3. Yes, use annuals
We hear it all the time, “I only want perennials,” customers say. “I don’t want to plant annuals year after year.” If only plants read our tags and bloomed precisely when we wanted them, too. If only weather never interfered by knocking down the garden phlox just when it was starting to bloom. If only the voles would go live at the neighbor’s house. If only. Annuals are the answer to the if only in the garden. When there is a lull between perennial blooms, the storms just knocked down your perennial hibiscus, or the beetles have decimated the garden, annuals continue to bloom. They fill in the gaps between bloom and help create all-season color.
They’re an investment worth the dollars spent for their color and the enjoyment they bring from April through October. For the price, it’s hard to find something else that gives that much pleasure for so long. Use a bloom booster fertilizer on your annuals every 7-10 days to keep them blooming like gangbusters all summer, and sit back and enjoy. Sometimes, they’re the only flowers blooming and behaving in the garden. And, the best part? The fall cleanup is easy. Pull annuals up and toss in the compost bin. No cutting back, dividing, or pruning is necessary. They add color to the sun or shade garden and are still blooming long after everything else has faded.
Most importantly, remember that a garden is a work of progress, not a one and done. It takes patience and some thought to create a continual bloom in your garden. All the more reason to stop and smell the roses.
Written by Cinthia Milner, Landscape Consultant, and blog writer.
B.B . Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.