Perennials are a rewarding investment
At this time of year, the vivid rush of spring bulbs is long gone, the sentimental aroma of lilac has faded, and the last peony blooms are withering in the sun. While all of those are obvious favorites, they do leave a dilemma: What is going to bloom from now until fall? Re-blooming perennials are an important backbone of any garden. With a solid perennial planting, the amount of time spent on annuals can be diminished as well as hours spent laboring in the garden. Perennials may not always provide instant gratification like annuals, but once mature many are true showstoppers.
My friend and fellow Master Gardener, Dianne, tells me I am a broken record when it comes to sharing my love for Endless Summer hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer) — which might be true. However, in my opinion they are almost the perfect perennial. Endless Summer hydrangeas provide a profusion of color throughout the entire season and are quite easy to maintain. What makes Endless Summers so appealing is their ability to bloom on new wood. Traditional hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) do not bloom their first year, and after that only bloom on wood that is at least one year old. Not only is this difficult for an impatient gardener like myself, but if the wood is damaged over the winter, or there is early spring warmth followed by frost like this year, the hydrangea will likely have no blooms that year. With an Endless Summer none of that is a concern. Endless Summer hydrangeas are available in light pink, white, and pink-blue depending on the acidity of the soil. For blue blooms, the soil needs to be acidic. I add both aluminum sulfate and citrus peels to my soil to increase the acidity. For pink blooms, soil needs to be more basic — this can be achieved by adding hydrated lime (it took me a long time to accept that “lime” was not acidic like … limes) or coffee grounds. Because I cut so many blooms to bring inside, I never have to prune mine. Hydrangeas are only fussy in one regard: water. It is fitting that hydra (Greek for water) makes up this plant’s name. For that reason, it is best that hydrangeas be planted in an area with morning sun and afternoon shade where they can get plenty of water.
Another spectacular blooming perennial is Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), with its attractive silver-green foliage, and wealth of lavender-colored blooms this plant can easily be confused for the herb lavender. Interestingly enough, Russian Sage is not in the sage (Salvias) family at all. It is thought that it earned its name for the fragrance of the blooms which is similar to that of sage. Russian Sage excels in areas of the garden where many other plants fail. It prefers full sun and tolerates dry soil very well. Once it blooms, it adds beautiful color to the garden until the end of the season. It grows quickly and is insensitive to being cut back at the end of the season. I love Russian Sage because it has such soft lines. In bloom, it softens any area with feathery light purple.
Finally, for unparalleled color, beauty and satisfaction I think shrub roses are the winner. Often providing early color in mid-May when other perennials are just waking up, shrub roses provide an entire season of gorgeous bloom. Available in a variety of colors — from white to hot pink to yellow, there is certainly a shade of shrub rose for any garden. Many people shy away from roses because of the misconception that all roses are finicky and demanding. Modern shrub roses have been masterfully hybridized and require far less care than their ancestors. One of the greatest factors in the success of growing a shrub rose is that it have enough space for air to circulate. Shrub roses prefer full sun and conservative, even watering. There are also now varieties of climbing rose that have been hybridized to bloom all summer as well, which would be a gorgeous way to improve an inexpensive privacy fence.
Perennials are an investment that will reward you every season. Often the older they get, the more beautiful and hardy they become requiring less effort every year with more beauty.
Stephen Jones is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.