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Year-Round Blooms with Perennials

The foundation of any landscape design begins with trees and shrubs. After that, the fun begins: adding a variety of plants that bring color, texture, dimension and movement to the landscape. Gardeners have their own favorite seasonal annuals such as pentas, pansies, coleus and asparagus ferns, but perennials – plants that return year after year – are versatile and cost-effective options for color and texture throughout the year. Let’s look, season by season, at tough, proven favorites that any gardener will get attached to.

Everyone waits for the first signs of spring, and often that means blooming spring bulbs. Many spring bulbs are perennial – think about beds of colorful iris and daffodils that spread and return year after year. Our beautiful native “buttercup” primroses, with their profuse pale pink and yellow flowers, brighten up not just roadside but home landscapes, and transition into functional groundcovers. As temperatures rise, the options for blooming spring perennials and the flowers they produce explodes. Perennial that attract migrating butterflies – yarrow, the many perennials in the aster family, and of course milkweed, the larval source for monarch butterflies – get attention for their blooms and the insects they attract.

As we move into the heat of summer, Texas natives take center stage, and the #1 favorite perennial is salvia. Coming in many colors and sizes, with both woody, shrub-like species and softer, more herbaceous varieties, salvias bloom once it warms up and don’t stop blooming until the first hint of cold. Salvias are easy to care for, too – just shear them twice yearly to promote re-blooming. Another favorite is almost anything with “coneflower” in the name. From giant coneflower – often 5’ or taller, to the multi-hued Echinacea, coneflowers are an iconic species in Texas summer gardens. There are many native and adapted perennial species that will bloom for many months

Some of our most beautiful perennials bloom from summer into the fall, plants like the Gregg’s blue mist which fall migratory butterflies can’t resist. A drought-loving garden standout are native and ornamental grasses. Our “big four” native prairie grasses – little and big bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass – have magnificent fall color and glistening seedheads that are an important food source for overwintering birds. They provide lovely movement as they sway in the wind, and the dried stalks often remain upright through the winter, adding interest to the cold-season landscape. Another foundational perennial, year-round, are ferns, and one of the most popular is ‘Autumn Brilliance’, which lights up shady, well-drained garden beds and containers with cinnamon foliage in the fall. And ferns are easy to maintain – trim back last year’s frond in early spring, fertilize when temperatures rise, and you’re done.

Many people think that gardeners take a break in winter. Maybe so, but their gardens don’t have to. Colors and textures may change but the beauty is still there. One increasingly popular option for winter-into-spring color is Lenten roses. These small, mounding perennials, with their drooping, cup-like flowers in many colors – even dark blue! – are evergreen; after the bloom period and as we move into warmer weather, the foliage remains and provides a beautiful background for annual spring color or in front of evergreen ferns. Lenten roses are often paired with coral bells; they make beautiful side-by-side companions in a semi-shady garden with good drainage and slight acidity. Coral bells are loved for their lovely ruffled leaves and for the wide range of colors, from lime green to glowing red to almost purple-black. The bloom spike, with it’s tiny, down-facing bells, appears in spring, but even without the bloom, coral bells are a lovely evergreen filler, and a great addition to pots.

Most perennials have a specific bloom season, so you’ll want to choose plants that bloom at different times of the year. Non-blooming perennials like ferns also compliment foundational trees and shrubs, and with seasonal annuals added for pops of color throughout the year, your garden will be a showplace and a delight year-round.

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