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Transition Perennials

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Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office

At this season, it is time to consider the transition flowers. These are some of the most valuable flowers in the gardens because they are fill the gap between the lovely spring flowers including the bulbs, pansies wallflowers and other spring blooming annuals, biennials and perennials and the summer annuals.

The flowers that were planted in the gardens last fall usually finish blooming as the weather turns hot. While there are a myriad of flowers to plant now, they take some time to fill in and create the flower show we want in our gardens.

These are a few of my personal favorites. The list is not all-inclusive nor is it meant to exclude any plants that might grow well in our area. These are all good performers in our area and some are excellent water wise choices.

Bleeding hearts are an extraordinary perennial. They start with a few leaves poking through the soil in the spring and then erupt into a massive display of bright green foliage. The namesake shaped flowers quickly appear and cover the plant with shades of pink, reds and whites. After the blooms fade, the foliage eventually dies away and the plant will literally disappear until the following spring.

Because of their showing blooms and massive size, these are great choices for the transition garden. They thrive in most soils and will live for many years in the garden. They do best with some protection from the sun and wind.

Iris thrive in our high mountain desert. These elegant flowers have long been a favorite off local gardeners. While they will survive with little water, they mix well with many types of flowers. With hundreds of varieties available ranging in size from miniatures to tall, they will fit in any garden. For further versatility, look for early, mid season and late bloomers.

Corydalis is another good transition plant. In fact, they are one of the few perennials that bloom reliably for most of the growing season. From early spring to frost, the small mounding plants are adorned with interesting blossoms. When they are not in bloom, the foliage still provides an interesting almost maidenhair fern like characteristic.

The flowers come in white, pink, lavender and a lovely blue but the Corydalis lutea with its butter colored flowers is the best plant for our area. Grow these plants in partial shade for the longest lasting and most attractive flowers.

Hollyhocks are another favorite flower of mine that typically blooms from June through August. These are delightful old-fashioned flowers with lots of new improvements including many new doubles and some outstanding dwarf types. After they bloom, cut them back to get a second, later bloom. The plants are quite drought tolerant considering the size and beauty of their flower shows.

Columbines are great native perennials that share their shows during May and June. They have a rainbow of colors including solid and mixed palates of blue, pink, purple, red yellow and white. These plants will survive with less water if needed although they will bloom better with adequate moisture.

Digitalis or foxglove is not always perennial. Most varieties are in fact biennials meaning they live for two seasons. That means they grow from seed and form a lovely rosette the first season and form the flower stalk the second season.

Although they are showy, avoid the common mistake of buying large foxgloves in bloom. If you plant blooming biennial plants, they die soon after planting giving you a very short bloom time for your money.

Dianthus comes in many different flower sizes and configurations but they can provide outstanding transition color in the garden. Most are short-lived perennials although they are often used as winter annuals or biennials. Look for bright pinks and lavenders, brilliant reds and maroons and white flowers colors either plain or trimmed with any of the preceding colors.

Another common perennial that will finish its bloom in May is the Cushion Spurge. These are very drought tolerant and survive in hostile sites. The bright yellow flowers contrast nicely with the compact cushion shaped foliage. They grow well in borders or rock retaining walls.

Another common native plant with many improved cultivars is Polemonium or Jacobs Ladder. This grows in the mountainous areas of Utah and grows to a height of 1-3 feet. Blue, pink and white flower stalks make this an excellent plant for our transition gardens.

Because of space constraints, not horticultural constraints, I will make my last choice the hardy iceplant. This grows well even under drought conditions and blooms in May and June with lovely yellow flowers. The magenta flowered types bloom slightly later but are equally at home in the drought tolerant garden.

Use your garden space wisely and always try to keep something in bloom even when making transitions from spring to summer to fall gardens. Selected perennials will make the transition easier.

Passion for Perennials with Larry Sagers and Gretchen Campbell. If you love perennial gardens or the cottage garden look, then you will love this class. We will go in depth into perennial plants, how to select them according to water requirements, shade or sun tolerance and care. Tuesdays, June 3, 10, 17, 24, 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Join us in the Oak Room on the lower level of the Thanksgiving Gardens Visitors Center Fee: $40.00

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