Nurseries and garden centers are bringing in fresh plant material right now, but there are also deals to be had on plants that have been sitting on the shelves for months. One of the reasons to buy from a good nursery is that those plants have been properly watered and fertilized during the season. They also will sell only plants that are hardy in your area. Be sure you know which planting zone your garden is in if ordering plants online.
Before perusing all the different cultivars at the garden center, spend some time looking over your garden. Where’s a good spot for a tall sun lover or a corner that would be the perfect home for a squatty shade plant?
I’m often asked, “What should I plant?” Here are my favorite perennials, but there are countless different plants available. Don’t be afraid to try something that’s not on the list if you find it to be beautiful.
The downside for most perennials is their short bloom time. Experienced gardeners really don’t mind, as they love the ephemeral nature of something that’s in its glory for a few weeks.
• Corydalis lutea is always the first plant on my list. If you’ve been reading this column for the past few years, it will be familiar to you. It starts blooming in April and continues through November. Bright yellow flowers are held over gray, greenish foliage. The plant will grow in dry shade and get about 18 inches tall; it can reach 3 feet in part sun. Corydalis lutea throws seeds everywhere and will make a nice colony after only a few years.
• Probably the most popular reblooming daylily is ‘Stella de Oro,’ but there are many others with a rainbow of colors. Most will bloom for the majority of the summer. ‘Buttered Popcorn,’ ‘Red Hot Returns’ and ‘Stella Supreme’ are just a few available. When looking for something special, don’t be afraid to ask your local nursery to see if they can get it for you.
• Salvia ‘May Night’ is another perennial I rave about. The 1997 Perennial Plant of the Year will bloom for months when treated right. As the first blooms fade and the plant attempts to put on seed, shear the flowers off. Give it water and organic fertilizer and when it’s ready, ‘May Night’ will produce another flush of blooms that will last until a hard freeze.
Other great perennials
• Hellebores are shade lovers that have long blooms. H. Niger or Christmas Rose begins blooming in November with almost plastic-like white flowers that persist for much of the winter. Honeybees will visit during a January thaw. H. orientalis or Lenten Rose begins to bloom with the crocus and hangs on to its flowers for months along with evergreen foliage.
• Ligularias are a wide-ranging species of shade lovers. ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ has beautiful bronze, green and purplish foliage followed by daisy-shaped, yellowish orange flowers. ‘The Rocket’ has 4- to 5-foot-tall flower spikes that start blooming with small yellow flowers at the bottom and work their way up.
• Love your hostas (like deer and slugs do). They thrive in shade and can be as small as a mouse ear or 4 feet long. There’s nothing easier to grow with a wide range of colors, variegations and sizes. ‘Paul’s Glory’ is a favorite along with the giant ‘Empress Wu.’
• You might think of Japanese painted ferns and others as delicate plants, but given some shade and a little water, they are tough and beautiful. Native hay-scented ferns are also wonderful and indestructible in the forest.
• Out in the sun, Asiatic and other lilies are stars of the summer garden. They can still be found at nurseries this time of the year in 1-gallon pots sans flowers and cheap. They are usually sold as bulbs in the spring or in containers.
• Anemone or windflower is a carefree sun lover that will bloom even with some afternoon shade. It’s a great pollinator plant that, once in place, needs nothing from the gardener besides a little mulch and some water during a drought.
• Clematis vines take a few years to make their roots happy, and will sprout annually, filled with flowers in the spring and sometimes again in the fall with the right variety.
• Sedums are some of the toughest sun lovers on the planet and with the popularity of succulents in general, there have been lots of interesting introductions
• Milkweed has become one of the most popular perennials as it’s the only host plant for monarch butterflies, but it’s great for lots of pollinators. Butterfly weed, common milkweed, swamp milkweed and showy milkweed are all easy-to-grow, beautiful cultivars that will also help good bugs help us garden.