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Big, beautiful blooms

Jun 15th, 2012 | By | Category: Features, Growing

Long-lasting flowers for your backyard garden

by Chuck McClung

Gardening is more than just flowers, but it seems to be the flowers that lure many of us. We all love flowers.
I am often asked about the easiest flowers to grow with big beautiful, long lasting blooms. Why not have it all?!

But before we talk about these type of flowers, let’s talk about how to promote or encourage growth. Fertilizing or soil health is of course one key ingredient for healthy, large, long lasting blooms. Organic, slow release fertilizers work best. Plants that are all “hopped-up” on quick release fertilizers have softer leaf and stem tissues that are more susceptible to pests and disease. A slower growing, healthy plant will have longer lasting flowers. Look for fertilizers with beneficial fungi and micronutrients. Healthy soil has plenty of micronutrients and microorganisms that promote better flower color and long lasting blooms.
Another key is to keep your garden weed free. If your ornamental plants have to compete with weeds for light, water and nutrients, they will have fewer and smaller flowers.

Many flowering plants bloom for a much longer time if the spent flowers are removed as they fade. Removing faded flowers, or “deadheading,” prevents the plant from putting energy into producing seed. If the plant is not putting energy into creating seed, the left over energy is allocated to making more flowers to try to create more seed.

Freshly cut zinnias. PHOTO BY STEVE LOSPALLUTO

Most plants in the aster family (Asteraceae) bloom much longer if spent flowers are removed. Annuals like Dahlias, Zinnias, Marigolds, and Sunflowers and perennials like Echinacea, Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan), Aster, Mums, Shasta Daisy, and Gaillardia will bloom for a longer period of time if spent flowers are deadheaded.

An entire book could likely be written on big, beautiful, long lasting flowers. So here are a just a few of my personal favorite plants that are easy-to-grow, bloom for a long time, and have large flowers that really catch your eye.

Trees

One of my favorite groups of flowering trees are the dogwoods (Cornus).There are many, many different kinds of dogwoods, and some have large, colorful, long lasting flowers (actually bracts). Our Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) is one of the larger growing dogwoods growing up to 40 feet with “flowers” approximately 4-5 inches across. The Eastern North American flowering dogwood (C. florida) is smaller, growing to 20 feet tall with 2-4 inch flowers.

The variety ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ is a hybrid between the two aforementioned dogwoods with huge, pure white flowers that stand out brilliantly in the landscape. C. florida ‘Cherokee Chief’ blooms in Spring with some of the darkest pink flowers among all dogwoods.

Other easy-to-grow trees with large flowers include Catalpa, Magnolia, and Locust just to name a few. Be sure to note the mature size of the tree you select, and be sure your location will accommodate a tree that size. Amend your soil with compost when you plant, and don’t forget to stake your trees.

Shrubs

Starting in the Spring, Rhododendron and Azaleas are landscaping staples with bold, year round foliage and dramatic flowers clusters in just about any color one wants. Tough and adaptable to our soils, Rhodys and Azaleas are so easy to spot in the landscape right now. Pieris and star Magnolias are two other prominent, easy-to-grow, Spring blooming shrubs.

Later in the Spring and in early Summer the Hydrangeas begin to bloom. The mophead type of Hydrangea (H. macrophylla) has the largest flowers, to over a foot across, in vivid blues to soft pinks to pure white. Many newer varieties either have unusual color variations or are more compact designed for the container gardener. Pee Gee Hydrangeas (H. paniculata) and Oak Leaf Hydrangeas (H. quercifolia) have large conical shaped flower clusters that are equally as dramatic in the landscape. All these Hydrangeas will provide color into fall and spent flowers remain decorative into winter.

During the summer, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) really begins to catch my eye. With lots of sun and water, this tough, deciduous shrub will bloom for a long time with a profusion of 3-5 inch hibiscus-like flowers. Depending on the variety the flowers range in color from white to pink to deep blue-purple (e.g. Blue Bird).

At the beginning of the calendar year, many Camellias are blooming in our landscape. The appropriately named ‘Yuletide’ Camellia blooms during the Christmas season, and can keep on blooming into the New Year. Camellias are great broadleaf evergreen shrubs for part shade. Some bloom in late winter, and some will be blooming into mid-Spring; plan your Camellia selection carefully for specific blooming times.

Annuals

Having only one year to produce seed for their next generation, most annuals bloom over a much longer part of the growing season than perennials, shrubs and other plants. Two annuals that fit the topic at hand are Dahlias and Zinnias. Coming in a wide range of colors and sizes, dahlias and zinnias will keep blooming all season if watered properly, fertilized, and deadheaded.

Love-Lies-a- Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) is one of the more unusual flowering annuals. Often seen as a cut flower, it has bright red or gold hanging tassle-like clusters of flowers usually bright red or gold draping to sometimes over two feet long. Very eye-catching in pots!

Chickabiddy or climbing snapdragon (Asarina scandens) has seen a bit of a comeback in recent years. This delicate looking, yet strong and sturdy vine is often grown in hanging baskets to climb the hanger and weave in and amongst other plants. The large, tubular, foxglove like flowers are about 1-3 inches across and 3-4 inches deep in striking, vivid blues and pinks. The most striking varieties to me have bright blue-purple or pink tipped white flowers. I had one in a pot at the bottom of the stairs one year and it climbed 10-15 feet up the railing and received many comments about the striking flowers.

Perennials

And then there are all the easy-to-grow, big and beautiful, long blooming perennials. One group of eye catching perennials are those that create tall tapering, conical bloom spikes from 4-8 feet; here I’m thinking of Delphinium, Foxgloves (Digitalis), and Foxtail Lilies (Eremurus).

Delphiniums are one of my favorite perennials! From electric shades of blue and purple to soft grays and dusky pinks to pure white, delphiniums are sure to turn heads. Most varieties grow tall flower spikes from 4-7 feet tall and must be staked. Sturdy dwarf varieties like the ‘Magic Fountains’ series grow to only 3 feet tall or so, but still may need staking.

The familiar foxgloves (actually reseeding biennials) have tall tapering conical towers of huge tubular flowers in deep pink to pure white with eye-catching spots on the inside.

Foxtail Lilies (Eremurus) provide yellows and oranges to the landscape as well as pink and white Though somewhat harder to find, foxtail lilies are the star of this group. Their towers of flowers often appear more delicate yet more regular in shape than foxgloves or delphiniums, and can grow to 10 feet tall! Delphinium, Foxgloves and Foxtail Lilies all look spectacular for a long time and provide a nice vertical element to the landscape.

Then there are all the members of the Aster family mentioned above like the large, long blooming, blanket flowers (Gaillardia) in hot shades of red, yellow and gold. The black eyed susans (Rudbeckia) are well known group of long blooming perennials. Those with the largest flowers include the Gloriosa Daisy (R. hirta) cultivars like ‘Irish Eyes’ and ‘Rustic Dwarfs’. There’s also the tried and true perennial Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’. My favorite is R. lacinata, one of those black eyed susans without a black eye. But this one grows bright yellow flowers 3-6 inches across atop 5-10 foot tall stems.

Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea) is another later spring through fall blooming aster relative. Large daisy like flowers with recurved petals that now come in a huge range of colors with names like ‘Mango Meadowbrite’, ‘Sunrise’, and ‘Tomato Soup’. Someday I think there will be Rainbow Echinacea seed in which you get flowers in every color of the rainbow. We’ll see.
Other Aster relatives that are long blooming and easy-to-grow include Shasta Daisy, Aster, Mums, and Stoke’s Aster (Stokesia).

Irises are another group of easy-to-grow perennials with somewhat long lasting flowers. Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) are perhaps the most flamboyant of the irises. In a wide range of colors from light peach to white to brown to near black, bearded iris really stand out during their time in mid Spring. The Japanese Iris (I. ensata) also have large, flat-topped 4-6 inch flowers, usually in shades of purple. Japanese Iris grow quite tall to 4-6 feet and tolerate wet soils and pond edges.

Very much back in demand are the Peonies. Some are fragrant some are not, but all have very large, breathtaking flowers, some over 1 foot across! Shrub peonies act like perennials and die back to the ground in the fall. Tree peonies behave like deciduous shrubs and loose all their leaves in the fall with woody stems remaining through the winter.

What’s all the rage right now are the many types of ‘Itoh’ Peonies. Itoh peonies are a hybrids between a shrub peony and a trees peony. They produce many, large flowers in a wide range of colors like apricot, pale yellow, and creamy pink. They are pricey, but they are worth it!

Lastly, many years ago I fell in love with the “O/T Lilies“, hybrids between Oriental and Trumpet Lilies, that produce many heavily budded sturdy stems 4-7 feet tall. For many years I grew ‘Red Hot’ which had very fragrant, 7 inch flowers with as many as 40-50 flowers per stem!

There are so many other long blooming, easy-to-grow perennials with big flowers. Try the ‘tetraploid hybrid’ group of Daylilies, Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos), or Oriental Poppies.

Vines and Climbing Plants

My two favorite easy-to-grow, dramatically colorful, climbing vines are Wisteria and Clematis. Wisteria has the disadvantage of not blooming as long as some of the other plants we’ve mentioned, but the show of flowers just can’t be beat. Wisteria vigorously climb with woody stems and produce huge lacy-looking hanging clusters of flowers in whites and purples. The wisteria at my house is in bloom right now with hundreds of flowers clusters hanging over 2 feet long.

Clematis on the other hand are functionally and structurally much different than Wisteria. Instead Clematis dazzle you one flower at a time. Some like C. montana or the Sweet autumn Clematis (C. terniflora) are vigorous climbers covered in a thick carpet of smaller flowers. Others like ‘Nellie Moser’ or ‘The President’ have astounding 6-8” flowers in pinks and purples.

There are so many more big beautiful flowering plants that are easy-to-grow and bloom for a long time. Try one of these this year. Remember to consider the mature size and light requirements of your selection. Amend your soil, fertilize, deadhead, and water. Go garden now!

Chuck McClung has been gardening for over 30 years, has a Master’s Degree in Botany from Washington State University, and helps others solve their gardening dilemmas. He is a manager at Bakerview Nursery sand can be reached at orchidfruit@hotmail.com.

Printed in the June 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine.

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