How do you get a flower garden to be in bloom all summer or even longer? The simple answer is – by planning for it.
Know your space
Even if you do not have that long, deep bed seen in the gardening books or on Pinterest, you can accomplish your flowering goals. When beds are big and deep, you need to have large sprays of perennials with overlapping bloom show and a lot of different species make that a lot easier. If our beds are only 3- to 4-feet deep (maybe even smaller if between the home and sidewalk) and 10- to 15-feet long, our choices may seem more confining.
Make your choices
Consider limiting the different species of perennials and select a few as a starting point, then build out from there. Within your chosen species, you will be able to find early- to mid-summer blooming varieties. Pay particular attention to the bloom charts provided in the hard copy or online catalogs. Bloom times are likely not going to be exactly as noted, yet by using varieties with those different timings, you will get a staggered bloom show in your yard. When designing your bed, remember to plan for groupings of three to five plants if you can. A small grouping always looks better than a single plant.
That early spring show often starts with bulbs. While there are plenty of spring tulip bulbs with a spread of bloom times (late March through late spring), consider some of our more exotic bulbs like fritillaria or allium (summer) as part of the mix to make your flower garden stand out even more. More summer bulbs to consider are amaryllis, surprise lily (actually an autumn amaryllis) and other lilies. For late summer and fall bulb color, there is autumn crocus.
Do not forget annuals
Annuals can be used to fill in as the perennials establish during the early development of your beds. You can pull back on the annuals when the perennials take up more space and canopy over the open soil.
As hard as you try, you may find after three to five years that your perennial bed has an absence of bloom in one spot or at one time. This is where annuals can come in again. Petunias, for example, can bloom continuously, once they start through fall. Pro tip: Cut petunias back in mid-July, and regrowth should give a very good bloom show for the rest of the summer into fall.
We think of perennials as being tough and resilient, and they are, once they are established. To help that process, manage the bed in the first year or two as if it were your vegetable garden, providing the same kind of care for weed control, watering, and soil management.
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.