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Plant Ahead for Summer Color

We are approaching a transitional period in the perennial garden. Late spring color is bursting forth, with terrific plants such as Siberian Iris and Peonies. It seems now that color abounds in gardens and in the nursery, but in early to late June there is a bit of a lull until the late season perennials begin to come into color.

Perennials are either spring blooming or summer/fall blooming, but seldom both. Okay, I know there are reblooming German Iris, and some cool-evening-loving plants like Dianthus might come back into bloom, but as a rule of thumb, you have spring perennials with short blooming periods, and summer bloomers with long blooming cycles.

So my advice is: plant ahead. While it’s still relatively mild, plant those summer bloomers while they are still green. You may as well enjoy every flower that your plant is going to produce, and it will probably produce more if it’s been in the ground for a month or two than it will sitting in a pot in July.

Here are five groups of summer plants that you should be looking for over the next few weeks.

Coreopsis - Photo from Terra Nova Perennials
Coreopsis – Photo from Terra Nova Perennials

Coreopsis: with the unfortunate common name of Tickseed, small, daisy-like blooms, traditionally in yellow and gold, although these days there are now reds and pinks available as well. New selections are being bred for compactness, disease resistance, improved winter hardiness, and to be “self-cleaning” so that they don’t have to be sheared back to continue blooming throughout the summer.

Agastache – Photo By Larry Hurley

Agastache: Anise Hyssop, blooms all summer and is an absolute magnet for butterflies and other pollinators. Well-drained soil is necessary for their long term survival so amend soil very well, or plant on a bit of a slope or in a raised bed. Producing spikes of flowers in various shades of blue (the hardiest); but also available in red, peach, pink, yellow. The Summer Series is one of the more exciting new varieties that we are offering this year.

Russian Sage – Photo By Larry Hurley

Perovskia: Russian Sage, with spikes of small blue flowers on gray-leaved plants, Russian Sage is the perfect plant for your sunny, dry spot. It really does flower all summer, right up to frost. It may get floppy if it gets too much water and fertilizer, so it’s a “tough love” plant. Once established, hold back on the water. New varieties are more compact with stronger stems, and are worth the extra couple of bucks.

Echinacea – Photo from Terra Nova Perennials

Echinacea: the Purple Coneflowers. Traditionally daisy flowers in pink (not even close to purple, as far as I am concerned) and white, there have been literally hundreds of new varieties released in just about all colors except blue, and many with double flowers. The latter look like badminton birdies on a stick, only prettier. The key to coneflowers is, again, good drainage. A slope or raised bed helps tremendously. If you really want to guarantee planting success with this flower follow these instructions: plant them early, and remove the flowers the first year. You are much more likely to have a sturdier, stronger echinacea because the plants will focus on making a stronger crown and root system rather than having to expend all of their focus creating blooms. At least as much as plants are capable of focusing on anything.

Monarda – Photo from Proven Winners

Monarda: Beebalm. These are great plants for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, with bold flowers in pink, red, and purple. Some of the newer varieties offer fairly good mildew resistance, and spread much more slowly than some of the old fashioned types. There should be a cultivar that’s right for you.

There are plenty of others…tall garden phlox, Joe Pye Weed, butterfly weed. Our growers are bringing us fresh plants nearly every day. Drop by, and Plant Ahead.

By Larry Hurley, Perennials Specialist

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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