While no plant list is ever complete, here are some of the best flowering plants for our region which feature long bloom times. You should be able to find most of these in garden centers.
These Plants Flower the Longest
Autumn sage (Salvia greggii cultivars) – This perennial (technically a subshrub) is a powerhouse bloomer and tough as nails. The common name is a bit of a misnomer since the plant begins blooming as early as March, weather permitting, and goes on through summer and into fall. Drought resistant, pest and disease resistant, deer resistant, heat tolerant, and beloved by bees and hummingbirds, autumn sage gives great value in the garden. You can find varieties that bloom in red, pink, white, yellow, peach, and purple. Plant in sun.
Repeat-blooming azaleas – All the vivacious, saturated color of classic azaleas but with two, or even three, bloom times! Look for varieties from the Encore, ReBLOOM, and Bloom-A-Thon series. Most varieties bloom in spring and again in late summer or early fall. Loads of colors available in a range of pinks, purples, coral, white, and red. Plant in the morning sun with afternoon shade or bright filtered light.
Fall-blooming camellias – Large, beautiful flowers in white, red, and many shades of pink cover these evergreen shrubs for a stunning fall display. Bees and other pollinating insects happily visit them, and many offer the sweet scent of daffodils and fresh dirt. Most fall camellias can be easily trained into a small tree or espalier or left on their own to form rounded shrubs. Spring-blooming camellias qualify here, as well, but it is easier to find a good selection in spring. Plant in the morning sun with afternoon shade or bright filtered light.
Coneflower – A drift of coneflowers are enchanting on their own, but they are also lovely companion plants to other perennials. Bees and butterflies drink the nectar and goldfinches perch adorably on the flower heads to enjoy the seeds. Cut back the first round of blooms to encourage repeat bloom. We like the Sombrero, PowWow, and the Cheyenne Spirit series, which offer more vigor and more colors to gardeners and greater capacity for re-bloom. Plant in sun to part sun.
Perennial hibiscus – The word “showy” barely does justice to these bombshells. Massive, 8-12 inch wide, colorful blooms in pink, red, white, or dark wine erupt over the plant in June and keep coming into September. Pollinators, especially bees, are attracted to them, and their handsome palmate foliage, especially of the wine-colored varieties, often provides a nice contrast to other plants nearby. Their only real pest is Japanese beetles. Avoiding those and watering during dry spells will keep the plants attractive and robust.
Dwarf Butterfly Bush – The number of new varieties of butterfly bush that have come out in the last 10 to 15 years has been astounding. There has been an expansion of colors to include more cranberry, pink, lilac, purple-blue, and magenta colors, and many dwarf varieties that obliterated the need to prune the plants every year to keep them to a reasonable size. Some notable varieties include ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Blue Heaven’, the Pugster series (which has the fattest bloom spikes ever), and the Buzz series. As advertised, these plants are butterfly magnets. They are also easy to grow with few pest or disease issues and will happily grow in sun to part sun.
Dwarf crepe myrtle – We all love crepe myrtle trees, those heat-seeking blooming machines that they are, but how about the dwarf shrub types? They sport all the heat tolerance, disease resistance, and long bloom time (at least 60 days) of their taller brethren, but in plants that grow 2-3 feet or 3-4 feet tall making them excellent for use in a mixed flower border. Some of them also have great fall color. Plant in sun.
Lenten Rose/Hellebore – From late February until mid to late April, Lenten roses are perennials that provide heaps of blooms of great variety. They are workhorses in the garden, too, being evergreen, drought tolerant, deer resistant, and long-lived all while providing an important early-season food source for bees. Plant in the morning sun with afternoon shade or bright filtered light.
Honorable mentions – ‘Ms. Huff’ and ‘Ham ‘n Eggs’ lantana. The only reason these are honorable mentions is that they need to be planted in late spring or summer and one cannot usually find them for fall planting. However, these are powerhouse perennials that bloom all summer and into fall, attract many pollinators, and are easy-to-grow plants that are heat and drought tolerant as well as pest, disease, and deer resistant. Plant in full sun.
Tina Mast is Communications Director for Homewood Nursery in Raleigh, NC, and likes hellebores so much she even has a hellebore tattoo. You can reach her at [email protected] or 919-847-0117.