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Consumer Horticulture

Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Choosing Perennials for Season-Long Color

Released: 03-15-98

B. Rosie Lerner
Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist

Mother nature has a splendid palette of colors from which to choose when designing your flower bed, but you'll have to do your homework to have a perennial garden that stays in color all season long.

Most annual flowers, such as marigolds, petunias and begonias, are known for keeping their colorful display throughout the growing season. But they have to be replanted each year, which can be costly over the years, especially if you're planting a large area.

Perennials generally live for three or more years and often spread to fill an area, so in the long run they can be a cost-effective way to spruce up a flower bed. However, perennials generally have a relatively short season of bloom compared to annual bedding flowers.

There are a few perennials, such as daylilies, coreopsis and rudbeckia, that perform for an extended bloom season. If you choose the right combinations, you can have different plants taking center stage at various times during the season so that something of interest is always playing.

Daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinth and other spring-flowering bulbs can kick off the early spring show. Plants such as rock cress (Arabis), bleeding heart (Dicentra) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia) can round out the show.

A little later - in spring to early summer - Columbine (Aquilegia), False Indigo (Baptisia), bellflower (Campanula), Leopard's-bane (Doronicum), Epimedium, crane's-bill (Geranium), avens (Geum), candytuft (Iberis), Iris, peony (Paeonia), oriental poppy (Papaver), Jacob's ladder (Polemonium) and speedwell (Veronica) can take over.

In mid- to late summer, there's yarrow (Achillea), mountain bluet (Centaurea), snow-in-summer (Cerastium), Coreopsis, daylily (Hemerocallis), coralbells (Heuchera), garden lilies (Lilium), beebalm (Monarda), balloonflower (Platycodon), violet sage (Salvia) and stonecrop (Sedum).

For a late summer through autumn grand finale, try Aster, Boltonia, blue leadwort (Ceratostigma), garden mums (formerly Chrysanthemum, now Dendranthema ), purple coneflower (Echinacea), globe thistle (Echinops), plantain lily (Hosta), blazing star (Liatris), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Stonecrop (Sedum) and goldenrod (Solidago).

These are just a few of the hundreds of perennial flowers that can add seasonal interest to your flower beds. A few good books, with color photos, and a trip to your local garden centers to see what is available within your budget will help finalize your choices.

Last updated: 10 April 2006
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