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Year-Round Color in Your Landscape

You can achieve four-season color in your landscape - even in tough growing times like during the harsh middle of winter and blazing heat of late summer. Planting pockets of annuals and perennials with varying bloom times is the
key to year-round color and interest in your yard. 

“These days, we really ask our planting designs to look good and function the entire year, and that’s possible if it’s done right,” says Joshua Dean, landscape designer for Merrifield Garden Center in northern Virginia. 

Understanding the biological clock of the plants you choose - when they peak and bloom hardily - is critical to accomplishing a continuous colorscape. Equally important is choosing the “right plant for the right place” (you’ve heard this advice before!), and assessing your landscape’s sun exposure. As for that lasting color, you’ll first want
to prepare soil so plants can succeed. 

“Soil is the base for everything,” emphasizes Pam Donzelli, vice president of Gale’s Garden Center in Westlake, Ohio, and board member of Garden Centers of America. “You put a plant into a vat of concrete and it’s not going to do much,” she says, relating how clay soil acts. “You want to give plants every chance to survive and thrive.”

Of course, the exciting part of any planting project is perusing the buffet of color at your local garden center. This year, annuals in citrus brights are flying out the door, says Ron Wilson, marketing manager at Natorp’s Garden Stores and Landscape in Cincinnati. “Yellow continues to be hot … everyone is asking for yellow this year,” he
says. And purples and blues are always tops. 

You can have this and more if you combine annuals and perennials, and consider these pointers provided by Natorp’s planting pros. 

ASSESS THE LAY OF THE LAND. Take a good, hard look at your landscape and study its sun exposure. Examine which areas receive full sun, are partially shaded, etc. Check plant tags for sunlight needs and choose varieties that suit your yard’s microclimate.
 
Next, churn over soil in planting beds and determine its consistency. Is it thick, mucky, dense, nonporous? Then your soil is mostly claybased, meaning it’s a great water-retainer, but needs amendments to facilitate proper drainage. Is the soil grainy, porous, light? Then your soil is sandy and will need topsoil and peat moss to richen the soil profile so it retains much-needed moisture for plants.

Generally speaking, Donzelli recommends a mixture of topsoil and peat moss worked into soil to improve its quality for planting. Save the more expensive planting mix for when you actually install plants into the ground.

MASTER BLOOM TIME. With beds ready to go, now the fun part begins: shopping for color. Return to your landscape assessment and make a list of existing flowers, trees and shrubs on your property. When do they bloom? Now you can focus on filling in the color gaps. 

Select plants that will bloom in each season for a year-round show. This starter menu is a primer, but discuss regional options with a landscape designer at your local garden center. 

PRIME-TIME. May marks the kick-off for annual season, when garden centers are flooded with a rainbow selection of plants that will expire after the season. Consider annuals your garden accessories - you can change them out each year, and opt for trendy colors or new varieties.

LATE-SUMMER. Many plants take “time off ” in the extremely hot weather of late summer, Dean says. Some of those will rebloom in the fall, but you can still keep the color going during a heat wave with varieties such as the Japanese Anemone, particularly the robustissima cultivar. It blooms from late July to October. Another
late-summer showgirl is caryopteris, also known as bluebeard, available in cultivars ranging from 18 inches to 5 feet tall. “It’s one of the best flowers for attracting butterflies in your garden at that time,” Dean says.

FALL. Pansies are the fall flower, along with mums and colorful veggies like cabbage and kale, which last through early winter. Montague daisies also will bloom in fall, Donzelli notes. 

WINTER. Despite the harsh Virginia winter this year, Dean’s customers watched their Christmas rose bloom into the New Year, and Lenten Rose prevailed during frigid February and March. 

Called hellebores, this evergreen perennial retains foliage and functions as a colorful backbone planting when other varieties are bare. For a native, deciduous show, hollies perform November to March in most regions. Dean notes that the ‘Sparkleberry’ holly (Ilex) can grow to a 10-by-10-foot mass of red berries all winter. “It’s very showy, very festive,” he says.

EARLY-SPRING. A couple of weeks before early-blooming forsythia pops, witch hazel blooms, sometimes as early as late February or early March in the Virginia area, Dean says. Other early performers include flowering trees, flowering pears and weeping cherries, Donzelli says. And for those who planted fall bulbs, crocus is first to appear, followed by daffodil in April (in Ohio). “Plant bulbs in patches here and there,” she suggests for those who want to see early signs of spring.