How to Plant Your Garden for Continuous Color
If you are anything like me, the dream is to have a gorgeous garden regardless of the time of year. Having a garden that is always colorful will take time, persistence, patience, and planning. Just like any other garden, a garden that is always in color will need updating and care as time goes on. Here are twelve items to consider when planning an ever-colorful garden.
Shop in Many Seasons
After long winter days, gardeners are eager to get to garden centers and start picking out new plants for the garden. Spring is a great time to buy and add plants to your garden. What if I told you we are missing something critical by shopping and choosing plants primarily in spring? Until someone pointed it out, I didn’t really think about the fact that in spring, garden centers are largely selling colorful plants that are good for spring. If you want to see summer blooming plants in garden centers, you should visit garden centers in summer. Really, anytime spring through fall is a good time to drop by your favorite garden centers to see what’s in color. It’s a great way to get ideas for plants to add for times of the year your garden might be lacking in color. Another idea is to visit public gardens throughout the year. Doing so will give you a feel for which plants are colorful at different times of the year in your climate.
Bulbs for Spring Color and Beyond
For many gardeners, early spring plants are beloved for bursting into flower just as soon as spring starts, announcing that spring has sprung. Early spring bulbs, like daffodils, are quite hardy and add color to the landscape early in the season. One drawback is their unsightly foliage as they start to go dormant. Using companion plants like late emerging perennials can hide the dying bulb foliage while adding a new wave of color in the summer. There are also summer blooming bulbs to consider.
Perennials Do the Heavy Lifting
When I think of perpetually blooming gardens, what I’m seeing in my mind are generally perennial beds. Perennials usually do a lot of the heavy lifting for perpetually colorful flower beds. Grab paper and pen or your computer and start listing perennials that you’d like to include in your garden. Note when they bloom, by category - early spring/spring/late spring, early summer, summer, late summer, early fall/fall/late fall. Note whether the plants are short medium or tall. Note whether they prefer sun or shade. Those items will give you the basics so you can start to get your hands around organizing the plants you want to include in your garden. This Frost to Frost™ Perennial Planner is a great tool to help make sense of the Proven Winners perennial options that are available.
Shrubs For Every Season
Where perennials are at the top of the list for continuous color in gardens, I think shrubs are underutilized for this purpose. Shrubs have many features that can add color to your garden like colorful flowers, foliage, fruit, stems, fall foliage color, interesting bark and varying plant forms. It is well worth your time to explore the shrubs that produce berries in the winter. They are one of my favorite ways to bring color to the winter garden.
Many of our flowering shrubs have been developed to have multiple seasons of interest. While 15 years ago, shrubs may have been primarily seen as background plants, the newest shrubs are powerhouses of color and seasonal interest. Our Year-Round Color, Year-Round Beauty brochure provides a quick glance at the range of shrubs available from Proven Winners and their seasons of interest. If you are thinking you don’t have room for a lot of shrubs in your landscape, remember that our shrub program includes many compact cultivars. Petite hydrangeas, forsythia and butterfly bushes are just the tip of the mountain of choices you’ll find.
For those of us with cold weather winters, you may not think of your winter garden as being particularly colorful. They may not be bursting with blooms then, but that doesn’t mean your landscape can’t be interesting through the coldest months. Evergreens are the heroes of the winter garden. Strategic use of evergreens can add winter color from foliage which ranges from deep green to chartreuse to blue, and forms that vary from tall and narrow to low and spreading. Here are some more winter gardening ideas you might enjoy. Evergreens are a wonderful element for your garden in all seasons and there is an evergreen for every purpose.
Annuals Up the Ante
When people talk about continuous color in the garden, also called succession planting, they are often thinking of perennial gardens. Picking the right plants to have a colorful perennial garden all season can be done, but it takes a lot of thought and careful planning. Many people overlook the utility of annuals for providing continuous color. While annuals can have a reputation for needing care through the summer, there are many easy care varieties that will bloom from the time you plant them in the spring until a hard frost kills them in the fall. Give them a bit of plant food when you plant, water when the soil gets dry, and enjoy their colorful blooms all season. The best feature of annuals is their extra-long bloom time. Adding a few vibrant annuals like Supertunia Vista® Petunias to your landscape will be worth every penny spent.
Foliage Color IS Color
When you think about colorful gardens, flowers are probably the first thing that come to mind. But don’t forget that colorful foliage is also a great way to add all-season color to your garden. Foliage color is one of the most reliable forms of continuous color. We’ve already talked about evergreens and some of the ways they add color to gardens. Other plants with interesting foliage like coleus, caladiums and sweet potato vines are bright and cheery from the moment you plant them until a hard frost hits them in fall. Ornamental grasses can also bring color, movement and texture to your landscape along with perennial Coral Bells and Hosta. Fall foliage changes add yet another dimension of color before season's end.
Berries, Bark and Stems
When it comes to hidden color, berries, bark and stems are some of the most overlooked sources of color. Dogwoods are a good example of stem color. Planting one of our Arctic series of dogwoods is an excellent example of how stems can add color to your garden. For berries, it is hard to ignore the unusual lavender-pink berries found in fall on coralberry plants. Winterberry hollies are the workhorse of the winter garden; both dwarf and full-size varieties are available with red and gold berries. Here are some more ideas for plants with great fall and winter color.
Include Pollinator-Friendly Plants
If your goal is to have a colorful garden, be sure to include some pollinator-friendly plants. Pollinator plants are colorful because bees and butterflies are attracted to certain flower colors. For example, bees are most attracted to blue, purple, white and yellow flowers. These critters themselves add another dimension of color and interest to your garden. When growing pollinator-friendly plants, remember to limit chemical applications as much as possible to prevent harm. It is also good to include water sources as an additional support for pollinators in your garden.
Use Hardscape and Garden Decorations
While most of the color in your garden will come from plants, don’t forget to consider the effect that other colorful objects can add to your garden. For instance, pottery and outdoor furniture can impact the look and feel of an outdoor space while offering continuous color all season. These ideas for thrifted garden decor can be used to add complimentary or contrasting colors to your garden.
Make a Plan
Any garden benefits from having a plan. When you are creating a garden to have continuous color, planning is essential. You will be balancing a lot of elements. You’ll need to consider when each plant will provide color, where in your garden has the right sun or shade conditions for each plant and how big they will grow. Creating this type of garden is an ongoing project. Make sure you aren’t biting off too much at any one time--it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you try to do too much at once. Our Proven Plant Pairings tool can help you plan out combination ideas that fit your growing conditions.
No garden is ever really finished. Each year, take the time to take photos and make notes on what you liked about your garden and where things could be improved. It is not uncommon for gardeners to move plants to new locations, add more plants, change color schemes, discard plants that don't work out or otherwise tinker with their plantings. One of the things I love most about gardening is that next season is always another chance to create my favorite garden. Try to embrace the process of gardening as much as the end result.