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"Long Blooming Perennials for the Northwest," by the Whistling Gardener

Gardening with perennials can be tricky. Unlike annuals that will bloom all summer long, perennials have their own specific blooming seasons - ranging from late winter to early spring, early summer, late summer, and even fall and winter. 
Allium Millenium. 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.

Gardening with perennials can be tricky. Unlike annuals that will bloom all summer long, perennials have their own specific blooming seasons - ranging from late winter to early spring, early summer, late summer, and even fall and winter. 

For the most part, perennials have a bloom period that lasts around five to six weeks and then they are done for the year. But like every rule in life, there are some exceptions. There are some perennials that have very long blooming seasons and will give you a lot more bang for your buck. Here are some to try that will bloom for several months, instead of just several weeks…

Geranium “Rozanne”— This is a true or hardy geranium, not to be confused with the annual one that we put in containers for summer long blooms (those are technically Pelargoniums). There are oodles of hardy geraniums (also known as cranesbills) that grow well in full sun and range in color from white to dark purple and you can find them on sun loving perennial tables in the garden center this time of year.

“Rozanne” came out a few years back as a replacement for “Johnson’s Blue” and it is a huge improvement. The violet blue flowers are almost three inches across and continually bloom for over three months. “Rozanne” will spread out in the garden and cover an area four feet around and two feet high by the end of the summer. Cut it back to the crown in spring and it will do it all over again.

Coreopsis “Moonbeam” — Commonly known as tickseed or thread-leaf tickseed, “Moonbeam” was introduced way back in 1992. I planted a clump at my church in Marysville over 25 years ago and it blooms all summer long with minimal attention needed.

“Moonbeam” has buttery yellow blooms on 12” to 18” upright stems clothed with narrow linear leaves. Since “Moonbeam” was introduced, there has been a whole slew of new hybrids with bigger flowers and a broader range of warmer colors. Other than watching for coreopsis beetles, these plants are virtually maintenance free.

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) — This is an extremely drought tolerant perennial that some tend to confuse with lavender. Its spires of sky-blue flowers can reach four feet high and will continue to bloom for ten weeks, no matter how hot or dry the garden gets. When I traveled to Colorado last August for my son’s wedding it was one of the only perennials still in bloom, unless you count the ornamental grass “Karl Forester” (which is also a long blooming perennial).

Jupiter’s Beard (aka Red Valerian) — Centranthus ruber is one of my all-time favorite perennials. I grew up with it in California where it tended to self-sow freely, in colors ranging from white to shades of pink to red. If you dead head the flowers it will keep blooming all summer long. While some gardeners might consider this plant a weed, I look forward every season to finding new seedlings to nurture and bring into bloom. It never ceases to bring me enjoyment.

Allium “Millenium — This is a flowering onion that literally blooms all summer long. I tried one out last year and it bloomed throughout the summer with two-inch diameter, rounded flower clusters in a cheerful shade of lavender purple. The flowers attracted every bee, butterfly, and beneficial insect for miles around. After the blooms faded, I left them up all winter long for added interest.

There are of course other long blooming perennials to experiment with as we move head long into the planting season. Plan on visiting the garden center several times this month so you don’t miss out on any of the goodies. In the meantime, stay safe 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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