Adding new plants to your garden doesn’t have to happen only in spring; it can take place all summer long. Enjoy your favorites such as peonies, lavender, black-eyed Susans, daisies, bee balm, marigolds, and geraniums, but also stroll through your local garden center for new ideas. Benedict’s Home and Garden in Monroe, for example, is a family owned business that features a variety of annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, and roses (visit the company’s website, benedictsgarden.com, for helpful links and tips, such as how to plant and maintain blueberry bushes or how to keep rodents out of your garden).
“Plant a combination of annuals and perennials,” suggests Sue Kelley, manager of Reynolds Farm Nursery and Country Garden Center in Norwalk. Annuals will bring fast, instant and moveable bursts of color and will bloom all season until frost. Perennials will come up every year, but depending on the variety, flower for a shorter time. Growers are changing this by hybridizing them for longer bloom times.
A perennial favorite is the daisy-look-alike coneflower, which has hues of white, pink, rose, orange, and yellow. Other options include Russian sage, with its slender spikes of small flowers, and euphorbia, both of which are drought-resistant and are usually ignored by deer, rabbits, moles, and chipmunks.
Hybrid lilies are a splendid addition to perennial gardens. They come in all colors except blue, have a wide range of sizes and forms, and will produce beautiful blooms throughout the summer. Other noteworthy plants are small-flowered santolina (or lavender cotton), showy dahlia hybrids, tall-growing boltonia with its star-like flowers, and penstemon, whose foxglove-shaped flowers often bloom a second time.
Once summer heat arrives, spring annuals such as pansies, violas, and osteospermum fade. Pull them out and replace them with sturdier ones like angelonia, ageratum, coleus, salvia, nasturtium, vinca, and yarrow. Hyssop has bright blue, pink or white flower spikes that appear from midsummer until well into autumn. Echinops, or globe thistle, is a late summer bloomer with dark green thistle-like foliage. Late-blooming zinnias will grow quickly and provide beautiful bursts of color.
“Lantana is one of the best summer annuals that attract butterflies,” says Kris Barker, owner of The Gardener’s Center and Florist, in Darien, as is the butterfly bush. Phlox, a low-growing, spreading plant, will provide a blanket of blooms all summer.
Jenn Cipriano of Copia Home and Garden in South Salem, N.Y., suggests a fragrance garden. Plant this next to a wall or patio close to your house; the reflected heat will intensify the fragrance. Two of the most popular plants are verbena and nicotiana. Others to consider are santolina because of its aromatic gray and green foliage and anise hyssop, whose leaves have a mint and licorice scent.
Look for a place to tuck a corner garden into your yard. Easy-to-grow and long-blooming zinnias work well, as do airy cosmos, perky portulaca, and nepeta (catmint) with its small lavender flowers.
Shady spots can also be eye-catching. Mix annuals such as begonias, impatiens, and coleus with a variety of perennial hostas. Other choices are coral bells, which often have a second bloom, astilbe, and lungwort, which flowers in the spring but has attractive foliage all summer.
If your garden is starting to look a bit tired in August, plant some shrub roses to perk it up. Other ideas are the new sterile varieties of butterfly bush such as the Flutterby, Buzz, and Lo & Behold.
While summer flower gardens need not be labor-intensive, there are a few necessary maintenance chores.
The benefits of mulch are more than aesthetic. Choose an organic mulch that will stanch weed growth, keep the soil cool, maintain its moisture, and improve the soil nutrients as it decomposes. Apply mulch in a two- to three-inch layer. Experts at the University of Connecticut Home & Garden Education Center say mulch should never be placed directly against plant crowns or tree bases, as this can promote disease.
Weeds will steal moisture and nutrients from your plants, and encourage pests such as cucumber beetles, grasshoppers, powdery mildew, and rust. Weeds are easiest to pull when young and small and the soil is moist.
Pinch off faded flowers (called deadheading in gardener’s lingo) to encourage new blossoms.
When it’s dry, watering is important. Most common garden plants prefer an average of one inch of water a week. Apply it all at once directly into the ground. Avoid getting the plant’s foliage wet; water sitting on leaves can lead to disease.
The frequency of fertilizing depends on the product. Kelley suggests Jack’s Classic water-soluble fertilizer applied every 10 to 14 days, but if you’re using a slow-release fertilizer, the application will be monthly or once at the beginning of the season, depending on the product.
Visit your local garden center for inspiration as well as to ask gardening questions. The people who work there are experts. According to one, “If we don’t know the answer, we will find it out for you. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.”