The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Perennials are plants that can live for years, even decades, and add beauty to your garden with very little care. Flowering perennials typically produce blooms by the second year, though some will burst with color the very first year. And spring perennials? Well, can you think of a better way to chase away the winter blues than with pretty pink, yellow, and purple hues?
Fall, with its combination of still-warm soil and cooler, wetter weather, is the ideal time to encourage root growth in new spring perennials. So admire the varieties here, pick your favorites, and set the stage for spectacular spring flowers.
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Say Hello to Hellebores
If you get impatient for posies as the winter drags on, put in hellebores (Helleborus) now. Also known as Lenten rose, this is one of the first flowers to appear each year, often poking through the snow with big, bowl-shaped pink, yellow, or maroon blooms. Hardy hellebores do best in slightly shaded spots and neutral soils with good drainage in zones 5 to 9.
Power Up with Pasque Flower
Certainly no shrinking violet, pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) is a showstopper with purple, bell-shaped blossoms that will flourish in zones 4 to 8. "Pasque" is an old French word for Easter, and this perennial is bound to bloom in time for the holiday (fortunately, it is also rabbit-resistant). The gorgeous garden star, which is also known as windflower and meadow anemone, flourishes in fertile soil with good drainage, and full to partial sun.
Take Cover With Creeping Phlox
For colorful ground cover, consider creeping phlox (Phlox subulata). Phlox is the Greek word for “fire,” and this mat-forming plant will set your landscape ablaze with small, flat, fragrant blooms in purple, pink, red, and white beginning in March. It’s a favorite for filling in rock gardens and can be especially pretty draping over a wall. Plant phlox in zones 3 to 9, choosing a spot that receives dappled sun and has sandy soil that gets good drainage.
Ring in Bluebells
For whom do these bells toll? Any gardener in hardiness zones 3 through 8 who doesn’t like a lot of toil. In early spring, Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica) pops out flowers that start pale and turn a rich, true blue. They thrive in moist soil and half-sun/half-shade conditions, eventually establishing a colony of pollinator-friendly ground cover with virtually zero care.
Prized for its graceful, nodding blooms, columbine (Aquilegia) is a woodland perennial, meaning it likes a shady or partly shaded location and consistently moist soil. Its white, yellow, red, or blue flowers appear in early spring and bloom through mid-summer. The only caveat is that columbine is one of the shorter-lived perennials; if you love them, add a few more plants every year or so in zones 3 to 8.
Be True to False Indigo
Tall, resilient false indigo (Baptisia) flowers in late spring through fall with thick stalks and spires of small, dark-blue blooms. If blue isn’t your bag, check out hybrids in other colors, including yellow and pink. False indigo likes full sun but can deal with some shade in hardiness zones 3 to 9. Drought-tolerant baptisia beckons bees and butterflies, and is unlikely to get nibbled by deer and rabbits.
Add Some Astilbe
It must be those long, fuzzy, pale-colored flowers that give Astilbe its common nickname: false goat’s beard. This practically trouble-free plant that blooms spring through summer is especially popular as a border plant in partly shady areas. Its flowers contrast well against broad, leafy foliage. Astilbe thrives in loamy, slightly acidic soil in hardiness zones 3 to 8.
Let the Sundrops In
Attention gardeners in the Southwest who can’t get by on cactus alone: Sundrops (Calylophus hartwegii) are a perfect perennial pick, flowering in March through October. A member of the night-blooming primrose family, the flower opens with bright yellow petals around sunset and stays that way through the next day. Plant in partly shaded areas with dry soil in zones 5 to 9.
Gotta Love Lamium
Shade happens—and that’s not a problem for lamium (Lamium maculatum). This lovely yet tough ground cover can take on bare spots, such as beneath trees, like nobody’s business. Lamium boasts variegated foliage in silver, gold, and green along with dainty pink and purple flowers that appear in late spring and summer. This rugged plant can thrive in clay and alkaline soils, and it actually prefers drier conditions in zones 3 to 8. Tip: Deadhead flowers once they fade to encourage a new crop of blooms.
Indulge in Dianthus
For a flowering perennial that smells as nice as it looks, let dianthus adorn your landscape. This flower family offers clusters of spunky spring-through-summer blooms in a range of hues, including pink, white, yellow, and red against blue-green leaves. Dianthus, a sun worshipper that thrives in well-draining soil in zones 4 to 8, is ideal for rock gardens, containers, and borders. Its rich nectar will attract pollinators, yet deer and bunnies won’t bother with it.
Weave in Spiderwort
Tap into your spidey sense with this perennial superhero, which grows in clumps and flowers in May through July in zones 4 to 8. Spiderwort (Tradescantia) boasts three-petal purple posies that contrast strikingly with its gold-tinged, grass-like leaves. A low-maintenance lovely, it thrives in full sun to partial shade and various types of soil, including sand and clay, but it’s fairly thirsty, so keep it moist but not wet.
Look Sharp With Pincushion Plant
Add pincushion plant (Scabiosa columbaria) to your autumn garden and enjoy the springtime reward of delicate lavender, pink, or white flowers borne on gangly stalks that rise in a bendy way from a clump of gray-green leaves. Perennial in zones 5 through 11, scabiosa is moderately drought-tolerant and needs full sun. The cut flowers of this plant make a wonderful, somewhat quirky addition to a bouquet.
Cultivate Purple Coneflower
A springtime profusion of plum-colored blooms greets those who plant purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) before winter winds blow. The daisy-like flowers sit high above the medium green foliage on this clumping plant that reaches 1 to 3 feet in height. Faring well in zones 4 to 10, this hardy perennial can take a bit of shade but needs at least 4 hours of sun daily. Purple coneflower is not terribly picky about soil and is fairly drought-tolerant, wilting a bit when it needs water.
Go Crazy for Coreopsis
Occasionally referred to as tickseed but more commonly known by its scientific name, coreopsis has both annual and perennial varieties. If you’re planting in the fall, be sure to look for the perennial variety. This profuse bloomer produces scads of yellow flowers throughout spring and summer, and even into autumn. Happy in zones 4 to 10, coreopsis is drought-tolerant and likes full sun. Give it some space: It can grow 15 to 18 inches tall and spread 1 to 2 feet.
Mix It Up With Whirling Butterflies
The delicate, intricate flowers on gaura are said to resemble supercharged butterflies. With white-tipped pink “wings” that surround long white stamens topped with yet more pink, Gaura lindheimeri (known also as Oenothera lindheimeri ) provides a touch of whimsy to the garden. This loose, shrubby plant can grow as tall as 4 feet and as wide as 3 feet, making quite a statement in gardens in zones 3 through 9. Not surprising for a native to Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana, it’s drought- and heat-resistant.
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