"But it's too late to plant!" said my sister the other day when she asked for recommendations about what to plant around her house. "Don't I need to wait until fall?" These questions are frequently asked, indicating the widespread but incorrect belief that all plants must be in the ground by Memorial Day, or they won't survive.
In fact, plants can be installed almost anytime that the soil isn't frozen. Better plant harvesting techniques and the culture of plants in containers have removed the barriers of planting in summer. When I told her this, she then asked another common question: "But won't I have to water it more often in the summer?" The answer is yes, that is true, but you also have to water plants installed earlier in the year throughout the summer as well, so there is little difference.
Such myths are unfortunate, because they cause people to think that the only time they can create or improve their gardens is confined to a very narrow window of time. This results in a rush to get things done in the spring, instead of at a more relaxed pace throughout the 6 or 7 months that it is safe to plant. Such belief also creates a frequent complaint of gardeners: that they don't have enough color in their gardens after June. Gardeners usually choose plants that are in flower when they purchase them. If they are making their plant purchases in the spring, then it is no wonder that their gardens are only green in the summer or fall. Now is the time to add more color to the garden, besides the use of annuals. There are many plants that will flower in early to midsummer, and from late summer to autumn: from deciduous trees, shrubs and vines, to hardy perennials. Late-blooming spireas are just now coming into flower, as are potentillas and even summer-flowering azaleas such as the variety 'Pink and Sweet' and others. Late lilacs continue to bloom, well after the familiar French hybrids have faded into memory: 'Donald Wyman' and 'James MacFarlane' included, as well as the Japanese tree lilac (Syringa amurensis). Soon to follow is the rare but hardy stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia), whose botanical name reveals that its flower resembles a white camellia, opening throughout the summer.
In mid-July and after, the butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii hybrids) are in bloom. An earlier column highlighted these colorful and fragrant plants that will remain in blossom until fall. Summersweet, a hardy native shrub, also blooms in July, bearing fragrant flowers that are creamy white, and sometimes slightly pinkish. The compact form of this plant (Clethra alnifolia 'Compacta') is one of my favorites for summer blooms.
Also consider that many plants offer wonderful foliage for about 6 months of the year, and that the leaves can be quite colorful. There are many forms of Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) that come to mind, from the relatively common compact 'Crimson Pygmy' to 'Rose Glow', which has wonderfully variegated leaves which are splashed with pink, cream and purple on the new branches. 'Gold Ring' has a thin golden margin around each leaf on the new growth as well. 'Golden Nugget' is a new, quite compact form with bright yellow leaves throughout the summer on a tight mound-shaped plant. Other variegated and colorfully-leaved plants also come to mind, such as the variegated shrub dogwood (Cornus alba 'Argenteo-marginata'). Such plants work well with perennials in the mixed border garden, whether in a foundation planting or further from the house.
As for perennials, there are many that will bloom for a long time, once the days turn warm. Salvias such as the variety 'Blue Hill' honored as plant of the year by the Perennial Plant Association, Knautia, Scabiosa 'Pink Mist' and 'Butterfly Blue' all will flower throughout the summer, with periodic deadheading. And remember Hostas for their foliage effects as well as their later flowers.
Daylilies are now coming into bloom, and there are many varieties to choose from, from early- to late-season bloomers. Many of the newer hybrids also have an encore performance a few weeks after the initial show of flowers. Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata hybrids) will soon be in bloom as well. Choose the forms that are powdery-mildew resistant, such as the pink 'Eva Cullem' or the white 'David'. Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is a welcome addition to the August garden, with its stalks of bluish flowers and grey foliage. And soon, plants for the summer meadow or border will be on display. Tall coreopsis of different types, rudbeckias, coneflowers, and many others can be planned and planted now for cheerful late-summer flowers, and consider some grasses to complement them in the garden.
As you can see, the flowering season needn't stop when the first day of summer arrives, nor should the gardening season. Take advantage of these warm, pleasant days of sunshine that we have yearned for since late last summer. Decide what your garden needs for summer beauty, and do something daring. Plant it.
The previous article originally appeared in the Hollis Times, Hollis, NH.