Some perennials are just born to bloom. And bloom, and bloom. These are the stars of the garden that will flower for a long, long time.
Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ Photo by Kylee Baumle
To every flower there is a season. As winter breathes its last breath, the spring bulbs put on a show of color that gardeners and non-gardeners alike welcome as much as the warmer temperatures. The bright yellows, purples and reds of daffodils, tulips and other ephemerals carry us into early summer, when a whole new wave of color greets us.
By using succession planting, we can have color in spring, summer and fall, but this requires planning. And if you’re the kind of gardener I am and I don’t want to think too hard about what blooms when in order to have color all season long. Give me those star performers that bloom like there’s no tomorrow!
Annuals are known for their ability to provide color all summer into fall, and that’s the main reason that most gardeners plant them. They’re also relatively inexpensive, especially if you grow them from seed. But there is that one caveat: They must be purchased and planted each year. Wouldn’t it be great if there were perennials that behaved like annuals when it comes to blooming?
We’re in luck. Most perennials have an average bloom time of three weeks, give or take. But these 10 plants that are all hardy to at least Zone 4 do better.
Veronica spicata ‘Icicle’
Photos courtesy of Bailey Nurseries
Salvia x. sylvestris ‘May Night’
Speedwell (Veronica spp.)
In my own garden, I’ve got ‘Icicle’, which is a white-blooming variety that goes non-stop, whether I deadhead it or not. (See the sidebar on deadheading.) I’ve also got purple ‘Royal Candles’ whose blooms last a very long time. Veronica have the added benefit of being drought tolerant. Zones 4 to 11.
Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
This is a native plant to the Midwest in its familiar pink species form, and it’s this one that is the strongest grower. But with many new varieties hitting the market in the last several years, there’s no need to limit yourself to pink. Hybrid blooms come in many colors, last a very long time and respond well to deadheading. They’re drought tolerant, too. I don’t know if there’s a better, tougher, all-around plant for Midwest gardens than echinacea. Most are hardy to Zone 4, but check the plant tag.
‘May Night’ Sage (Salvia ‘May Night’)
This one’s a winner; in fact, it was named Perennial of the Year in 1997, and 15 years later, it’s still popular. That’s because it not only blooms a long time, it’s drought tolerant and can handle heat and humidity. It makes a good cut flower, too. What more could you ask? Zones 3 to 9.
Tickseed (Coreopsis spp.)
This is another native to our Midwest landscape and one that has had many hybrids added to the family. Most are some shade of yellow, and many have a deep eye in red or burgundy that grabs your attention. ‘Moonbeam’ is a favorite of many gardeners, with its pale yellow blooms and threadleaf foliage. ‘Red Shift’ is yellow with a burgundy eye which grows larger as the temperatures cool in the fall. These will bloom a longtime, and regular deadheading will increase the number of blooms. Some coreopsis varieties are not hardy in northern zones, so pay attention to the plant tags. Zones 4 to 9, generally.
The Big Bang™ Series of coreopsis contains some uncommonly colored blooms such as this coral Sienna Sunset. Photo by Kylee Baumle
Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ Photo by Kylee Baumle
Tradescantia x. andersonian ‘Sweet Kate’
Photo by Kylee Baumle
Geranium pratense ‘Victor Reiter Jr.’
Photo by Kylee Baumle
Spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.)
As long as you keep these somewhat moist, they’ll continually pop out blooms for most of the summer. They respond well to deadheading and even to severe pruning to rejuvenate the foliage. Most have dark green foliage and dark purple blooms, but my favorite has to be ‘Sweet Kate’ (or ‘Blue and Gold’), because the bloom is not only a rich shade of purple, it has got chartreuse foliage that will knock your socks off. This is a good choice for the wetter parts of your garden. Zones 3 to 9.
Cranesbill (Geranium spp.)
You know that some geraniums are actually Pelargoniums and aren’t hardy in the north, but this is the real deal. Easy-blooming ‘Rozanne’ became the darling of the horticulture world in 2008, when it was named Perennial of the Year. Another that I love is mourning widow geranium (Geranium phaeum) which has lovely dark markings on its foliage and much smaller blooms, but is just as lovely and a continual bloomer as well. Most are hardy in Zones 4 to 8.
Sneezeweed (Helenium spp.)
Helenium got its common name when it was used to make snuff to bring on sneezing in an attempt to rid the body of evil spirits. It doesn’t bloom until later in the summer, but its bloom period lasts a long time when much of the garden is fading. Zones 4 to 9.
Helenium Photo by Kylee Baumle
Hydrangea macrophyila Endless Summer®
Photo by Kylee Baumle
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners
Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa spp.)
This long-blooming plant is also a vigorous grower. It comes in shades of pink, lavender, purple and near white. Scabiosa couldn’t be easier, although if you tend to have problems with powdery mildew, make sure it has good ventilation, because it can be affected. Bees love them, and some varieties are vigorous self-seeders. Zones 3 to 9.
These last two are blooming shrubs. But they provide color in the garden all summer long and will play well with your perennial plants.
Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer®
You know how sometimes you get hydrangeas and the shrubs appear to be very healthy, but you never get blooms? Chances are that the flower buds got nipped by a late frost and since most of them only bloom on old wood, you just missed the chance to get blooms for that year. Endless Summer® hydrangeas have large blooms that just keep on comin’, thanks to their ability to bloom on both old and new wood. These hydrangeas may get their first buds nipped, but they’ve got more where those came from and you’ll have blooms. I’ve had several in my landscape for quite a few years now, and they really do bloom all season. In the heat of summer, they’ll need some supplemental watering if you’re short on rain, but other than that, they’re pretty carefree. There are currently four cultivars in this line, including a lacecap (‘Twist and Shout’). Zones 4 to 9.
Reblooming Lilac (Syringa Bloomerang®)
Lilacs typically bloom in the spring, and Bloomerang® does too, but this one blooms again in midsummer and continues right up until frost. Its compact size makes it a perfect fit for your bedding landscapes. Zones 4 to 7.
More Strong-Blooming Perennials for Northern Gardens:
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.)
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Perennial flax (Linum perenne)
Reblooming daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.)
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum maximum)
Yarrow (Achillea spp.)
From State-by-State Gardening July/August 2012.
Photos by Kylee Baumle and courtesy of Bailey Nurseries and Proven Winners.