Perennial Blooming Calendar
by Rob Sproule
Every perennial has its season, and whether it be an iris, rose or mum, the goal of planning a bed or border is to make sure something is always in radiant bloom. It’s not as complicated as it sounds; most perennials bloom for several weeks to over a month, so with our short season all you really need to plan for are 3 stages.
Spring bloomers wake up early and bloom until June’s warm nights. After that, the summer blockbusters open up and are radiant until late August’s chill. Fall bloomers often sparkle through the first frosts, outlasting frost-tender annuals.
To always have something blooming means more than always having colour. It means that bees, butterflies, and other pollinators can rely on your beds for a steady source of food. Here are a few of my favourites for each distinct blooming season.
Spring is about subtlety and anticipation in the perennial bed. Shade lovers rejoice and many smaller flowers burst into colour.
Our first beloved harbinger of spring, “˜pasque flowers’ pop their furry heads through the snow across the prairies as early as late March or April. The bell-shaped flower grow on small clumped plants which are ideal for rock gardens, sunny beds, and anywhere you want to find your first smile of spring.
Bleeding Hearts are a woodland classic, thriving in moist, shady spots amongst ferns and lily-of-the-valley. The distinct heart-shaped flowers, cascading from foliage on arching stems, are one of my favourite heralds of spring. Growing quickly into 2-3′ clumps, they’re easy ways to fill your moist, shady garden spaces.
Named for the Greek Goddess of the rainbow, Bearded Irises are iconic for their opulent beauty, range of colour, and striking sword-shaped leaves. Make sure they have ample sun, light, well-drained soil and remember that dividing them every few years will keep them at their vigourous best (it’s not as hard to do as you think).
Summer in the perennial bed is party time! With so many big, showy bloomers competing for your attention, you’ll find yourself lingering outside a little longer than usual. This is the easiest time to find broad, glorious colour for the sun.
Lupines are tall, mid-summer stunners that produce flowers spikes up to 3 feet high. Perfect for a vertical statement at the back of the sunny perennial border, they’re bi-annuals that will reseed themselves year after year. Being in the pea family, they will also fix valuable nitrogen into the soil.
Lilies are the prima-donnas of the garden! Many people are surprised to learn how many show-stopper, scented varieties are hardy on the Prairies. Choose a sunny spot with excellent drainage (the first spot that dries after rain). They usually bloom about the same time as roses.
Monarda, or “˜Bee-Balm’, is one of the best perennials for luring buzzing pollinators, which will stop by your fruit and veggie crops while they’re visiting and increase yields overall. Enjoy their wide, wild looking flowers in a sunny, well-drained spot. Cross your fingers for hummingbirds in rural areas.
Keeping our climate in mind, I use the word “fall” loosely. These perennials bloom from mid August on and relish the shorter days of September.
Garden phlox (P. paniculata), is a showstopper with endurance, blooming in mid to late summer and going right through the fall. Star-shaped flower clusters on big (2′ or taller) will bring a touch of wildflower to the yard.
Autumn Joy (Sedum) is ubiquitously gorgeous in September. A big plant with fleshy, succulent leaves, it thrives in our cool, dry fall weather. Give it full sun and watch broad flower heads turn from deep pink to copper, buzzing with bees all the while.
Mums are our most beloved fall flower! Blooming as the days shorten, they stay vibrant long after the summer blockbusters are over and the cocky annuals have faded away. Plant in a sunny spot and enjoy either in the garden or a cut flower. In a season when aphids seem to be everywhere, mums’ built in pest control (pyrethrum) will keep them critter free and gorgeous until the hard frosts come.