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"Goodbye June Gloom, Hello Summer Blooming Perennials," by the Whistling Gardener

It seems a bit trivial to complain about the weather considering all the political upheaval, pandemic, and social injustices that currently abound in our world, but the plain truth is that gardeners live and die by the weather, and to that end, June 2020 will go down in the record books as a real stinker.
Voltaire Hardy Fuchsia. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

It seems a bit trivial to complain about the weather considering all the political upheaval, pandemic, and social injustices that currently abound in our world; but the plain truth is that gardeners live and die by the weather, and to that end, June 2020 will go down in the record books as a real stinker.

If you have been feeling a bit cranky about the weather, you are probably in good company. The good news however is that July, August, and usually most of September are some of the best months of the year to be in the garden (and similarly, the garden center). 

Granted we will all have to start dragging hoses around the yard, we’ll have to watch for bugs and weeds and we’ll have to do some pruning and fertilizing, but all of these chores should be richly rewarded with beautiful, lush gardens that will bring us lots of joy over the next two to three months. And, lest we forget, summer is a great time to fill in those blank spots with long blooming perennials (yes, it is okay to plant in the summer).

July is the month when tons of amazing looking perennials become available from our growers and our nursery tables are full of all sorts of wonderful sun and shade loving perennials that will bloom this year for at least five to six weeks and then return the following year twice as big with twice as many blooms. This is precisely what perennials do and if you only visit the garden center in April and May, you will surely miss out on some real gems. Here are some that are calling to me as we speak…

Hardy Fuchsias:  These shade lovers will actually grow in full sun, as long as you keep them damp. They are late to emerge in the spring, but by July are in full swing with tubular flowers that will lure in hummingbirds from far, far away. The color range goes from light pink to coral to red and purple. They can reach three feet tall by the end of summer and will bloom continuously, if you take the time to dead head them.

Cone flowers:  The breeders have come up with so many new colors for this Midwest native that planting only one will no longer suffice. Pollinators love this flower and if you leave a few seed heads at the end of the summer, you will get lots of avian visitors over the winter.  

Russian Sage: This is a tough, drought tolerant perennial that people sometimes confuse with lavender.  It grows three to four feet tall and sports large open panicles of steely-blue flowers, for what seems like forever. The greyish-blue foliage offers a nice contrast to any of the darker green plants that neighbor it.

Astilbe:  Typically sold as a shade perennial, Astilbes will do just fine in sun (like the above fuchsias) as long as you don’t let them dry out. Fluffy plumes of pink, red, purple, or white come into bloom in July and depending on the variety, can be anywhere from one foot tall to almost three feet tall. They make great companion plants to hostas and ferns.

Ornamental grasses: No garden is complete without at least a few varieties of ornamental grasses. Some are evergreen and look great all year, while others go dormant in the winter but reach their full stride by July and continue blooming later into the fall. Gone are the days when pampas grass was the one and only choice for an ornamental grass.  

Asters:  I tend to think of asters as fall-bloomers, and for the most part they are. But now is the time to purchase them and get them established in your garden. Plant them now while they are still green, and they will come into their full glory by late August and early September.

Coreopsis:  Breeders have gone nuts with this genus, bringing us a wonderful range of growth habits and color variations that make selecting only one flavor incredibly tough to do. Plan on incorporating several into your perennial beds for non-stop summer color

Crocosmia: A hummingbird magnet, these mostly red flowering perennials offer a mass of color in early summer and can form a large clump of four-foot-tall foliage topped with tubular flowers.  Be sure to stake them up before they come into bloom, or they will end up on the ground.

This is really just a small sampling of the many options available for continuous summer color.  Don’t let your garden fade away in the summer after those spring blooming perennials are all washed up. Take a field trip to your local garden center to find some exciting and beautiful new plants to work into your landscape for summer-long enjoyment.  Enjoy the sunshine and keep on gardening!

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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