If you love gardening and appreciate flowers in spring and summer, why not grow a four-season garden? It’s possible to have a bright, colorful landscape throughout the year, if you plan for it. Plant selection is the key. By choosing a diverse collection of annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs that bloom in different seasons, you can quickly give yourself a year-round garden. Let’s get started.
Observe your garden
Before buying anything, get to know your garden’s growing conditions, starting with your hardiness zone. Also observe to understand its lighting. Where is it shady in the afternoon? Which parts get hot sunshine all day? Do you have spots that get little or no direct sunlight? Keep in mind, too, that the sunlight changes throughout the year with the rise and fall of the sun’s angle and the leaves growing and falling from deciduous trees.
Mix it up
In order to cover all of the seasons, you’ll need to choose a diverse selection of flora from different plant categories. Some of the best flowers for late winter and early spring come from trees, shrubs, and bulbs. In spring, summer, and fall, flowers abound among annuals and perennials. Winter flowers, not uncommon in mild climates, are rare for northern gardeners. Colorful fruits and foliage can help to fill the void.
A garden’s appeal goes beyond flowers. Plants offer a host of other interesting elements, like foliage color and texture, varying sizes and forms, interesting branch structure, motion in the wind, attraction to wildlife, and scents associated with flowers and foliage. As you develop your year-round landscape, don’t forget these and other attractive elements.
Look for inspiration in public gardens, parks, and garden centers. If you see an interesting plant around town, snap a pic and take it to your local garden center for help with identification. Be sure your photos are in focus, and show details such as the overall plant size and shape, close-ups of the flower or foliage, etc. They may have it on hand, or they might be able to order it for you.
Trees and shrubs are the first things to flower each spring, soon followed by bulbs and other herbaceous perennials. If you planted cool season annual flowers in fall, they may rebloom again in spring as well.
- Flowering cherry trees: Kwanzan Cherry, Yoshino Cherry
- Deciduous magnolias: Saucer Magnolia, Star Magnolia
- Old-fashioned ornamentals: Forsythia, Lilac, Flowering Quince
- North American native trees: Eastern Redbud, Flowering Dogwood
- North American native shrubs: Rhododendron, Mountain Laurel, Native Azaleas
- Spring flowering bulbs: Crocus, Narcissus, Tulip, Iris
- Spring flowering perennials: Hellebore, Peony, Trillium, Virginia Bluebells, Lily of the Valley, and many more
- Cool weather annuals: Pansy, snapdragon, dianthus, stock
As the season progresses, a few late-blooming trees begin to show color. Shrubs that bloom on new growth produce flowers in summer. Most herbaceous plant species, annuals, and perennials, prefer to flower at this time of year.
- Summer flowering trees: Southern Magnolia, American Linden, Goldenrain Tree, Chaste Tree, Crape Myrtle
- Summer flowering shrubs: Rose, Hydrangea, Butterfly Bush, Spirea, Rose of Sharon, Summersweet
- Summer perennials: Daylily, Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Bee Balm, Guara, Phlox, Hardy Hibiscus, Coreopsis, Acanthus, Heuchera, Astilbe
- Summer annuals: Petunia, Vinca, Impatiens, Zinnia, Marigold, Ageratum, Sunflower
A few trees and shrubs hold out until fall before blooming. Lots of perennials flower this time of year. It’s also a great time to swap out the summer annuals for cool season flowers.
- Fall flowering Trees: Autumn Cherry, Franklin Tree
- Fall flowering shrubs: Camellia sasanqua, Fragrant Tea Olive, Confederate Rose, Seven-Son Flower, Fatsia
- Fall perennials: Aster, Goldenrod, Sedum, Russian Sage, Helenium, Japanese Anemone, Monks Hood, Toad Lily, Joe Pye Weed, Balloon Flower, Nippon Daisy, Chrysanthemum
- Fall annuals: Viola, Celosia, Calabrachoa, Flowering Cabbage/Kale, Ornamental Peppers
For those not blanketed in snow or ice, winter may be a time to enjoy cold-hardy flowers. Be sure to plant these treasures in locations where you can enjoy them no matter the weather.
- Winter flowering trees: Flowering Apricot, Okame Cherry
- Winter flowering shrubs: Camellia japonica, Paperbush, Mahonia, Daphne, Winter Jasmine, Witch Hazel, Pieris, Pussy Willow
- Winter flowering perennials: Hellebore, Snowdrops, Winter Aconite, Cyclamen
- Winter flowering annuals: Pansy, viola
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