On June 7, 2023

How to add season-long color in the garden

By Deborah J. Benoit

 Late spring is a wonderful time in the garden. The garden transitions from a period of monochrome browns as sleeping perennials begin to awaken. Suddenly, leaves unfurl and dormant perennials emerge. The garden becomes green again.

 For those of us who love color, that green is accompanied by the bloom of all those flower bulbs we planted in the fall. As daffodils (Narcissus) and crocus (Crocus) bloom, bleeding hearts (Dicentra) emerge from their winter rest.

 When they bloom, so do the tulips (Tulipa), lilacs (Syringa) and moss phlox (Phlox subulata). Around this time, fruit trees flower, adding to the fragrance and beauty of the garden.

 All too soon, those spring flowers fade, and there may be times when there’s little color except green. With a variety of shades and textures, green can be interesting, too, but if you’d prefer a rainbow of colors, it will take a little planning. 

While the perennials in your garden will flower year after year, their bloom time is likely to be relatively short. For continual color, include plants with a succession of bloom times.

 An easy way to choose which perennials to include is to look at nearby gardens. Make note of which plants are blooming each week. At the end of the season, you’ll have a list of perennial possibilities that grow in conditions similar to your own. Once you decide, check out local nurseries. Fall is a great time to plant perennials.

 In the meantime, there are other ways to ensure your garden never lacks color this year.

 Perennial plants with colorful foliage such as Heucheras (Heuchera) are an easy way to add color to your garden throughout the season. Its flowers are small, but with foliage in shades of purple, red and peach, bloom time isn’t a concern.

 Coleus (Coleus), a tender perennial (meaning it’s not cold hardy), is available in a wide variety of colors, sizes and growing habits. You’ll want to pinch off any flower buds that form, so the coleus will continue putting all its energy into its show-stopping foliage until frost.

 Another solution is to add flowering annuals to your garden. Annuals are plants that complete their life cycle in one year, so they grow quickly. Their bloom time will last longer than perennials, and many will flower through summer until frost. 

Try marigolds (Tagetes) in vibrant red, yellow and orange, or cosmos (Cosmos) with their daisy-like flowers in shades of pink, orange, yellow, red and white. Just remember to deadhead faded flowers to encourage continued blooming. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) will bloom from summer through fall, and while deadheading isn’t necessary, it may make the plant look tidier.

 By planting annuals among the perennials in your garden, you’ll add splashes of long-term color that will remain when one perennial finishes flowering and while you’re waiting for the next perennial variety to bloom.

 Hanging baskets of fuchsia (Fuchsia) and million bells (Calibrachoa), both tender perennials, displayed on shepherd’s hooks can add a pop of color anywhere in the garden. Pots of annuals will add colorful flowers when tucked in perennial beds and can easily be moved elsewhere as needed. Just remember to keep them well watered and feed according to the directions on the flowering plant food label.

 With a framework of perennials supplemented with new annuals each year, you can try different plant combinations and color schemes for endless variety.

Whether you choose annuals, perennials, or some combination of both, it’s easy to enjoy color in your garden all season long.

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