Peak season perennial for the Northern Plains

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While we would all ideally have gardens that look their best in every season, the reality is often far from that ideal. Few of us in the world have the time to devote to our gardens, and the hard truth is that the planning and work that goes into gardening means that we often only get one season where we sit down. You can enjoy the fruits of your labor.

As executive editor Danielle Sherry explains, “Winter is for planning. It’s when you really don’t want to be outside and when your time is better spent planning an attack to make your garden the best it can be. Spring is the time for work, when the bulk of your cleaning, planting, and projects are done. Fall is also a work period and is usually when you are Can revisit things you didn’t do in the spring.

After all that preparation and planning, you want to make sure your summer garden is at its peak when it’s finally too warm to work hard. To help ensure your summer garden really shines, area experts share their favorite perennials for this peak season. Find picks for the Northern Plains below, and be sure to check out more great summer picks in Pick Season Combos.


1. The ‘salsa’ sneeze

Salsa sneeze
Photo: Elaine Road

Name: Helenium ‘salsa’

Zones: 3-9

Size: 1½ to 2 feet tall and wide

Conditions: full sun; Well-drained soil

Local Range: Hybrid

Sneezeweed is an underutilized perennial that ‘Salsa’ aims to treat. It’s party time in the garden when this plant blooms. The flat, disc-like, bright red flowers have unusually prominent raised centers. As they bloom, individual flowers take on different shades of orange and yellow, creating a multi-colored effect that calls out for attention. At the top of this plant, profuse flowers completely cover the plant. ‘Salsa’ is medium-sized in stature, so it is equally comfortable in the front or back of the border. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will be eager to join the party, while deer and rabbits will be conspicuously absent. This sneeze is drought resistant and will tolerate moist or dry soil as long as it drains well.

2. ‘Gilded Lace’ Coreopsis

Gilded Lace Coreopsis
Photo: Elaine Road

Name: Coreopsis ‘Golden Lace’

Zones: 3–8

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: full sun; Well-drained soil

Local Range: A hybrid of eastern North America
Species

Coreopsis are classic summer stalwarts, with ‘Gilded Lace’ being one of the most beautiful and attractive varieties. A naturally occurring hybrid, ‘Gilded Lace’ sports a unique and attractive foliage. The long, thin leaves create an airy or, as the name suggests, lace effect that is unusual among tall perennials. The numerous bright yellow flowers, accented with brown centers, are a favorite of bees and butterflies, making this coreopsis an excellent addition to pollinator gardens. For an attractive combo of texture and color, try pairing ‘Gilded Lace’ with thick foliage of Globe Thistle (Echinops spp. and cvs., zones 3-9) or ‘Dark Towers’ with brilliant black leaves of Penstemon (Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Zones 3-8).

3. Blue gram grass

Blue gram grass
Photo: millettephotomedia.com

Name: Botelloa gracilis

Zones: 3–10

Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and 1½ to 2 feet wide

Conditions: full sun; Dry to medium, well-drained soil

Local Range: South and western North America

Blue grama grass is a sweet, clump-forming, warm-season prairie native. Its long, slender leaves are blue-grey and create a soft-looking effect in dense plantings. The arching stems appear in mid-summer and are topped with unusual one-sided dark flowers, earning it the moniker of “Bronnie Grass”. These flowers dance in the wind, adding a whimsical note to any planting. Whether planted in small or large groups, blue grama grass is equally at home in meadows, landscape gardens, and natural plantings, as well as in front borders. It attracts small butterflies and is a larval host for many species of skipper butterflies. It is also tolerant of a wide variety of soils.

4. ‘Pomegranate’ yarrow

Pomegranate yarrow
Photo: Elaine Road

Name: Achillea Millifolium ‘pomegranate’

Zones: 3-9

Size: 1½ to 2 feet tall and wide

Conditions: full sun; Dry to medium, well-drained soil

Local Range: North America, Europe, Asia

Common native white yarrow (A. millefolium) is ubiquitous in prairie grasslands, but it is not the flashiest of perennials. Enter the cultivar ‘Pomegranate’. This plant is not a shrinking violet. Dense, flattened clusters of bright crimson flowers scream, “Look at me!” Underneath, the ferny foliage is a soft gray-green and emits a spicy scent when brushed. ‘Pomegranate’ is a blooming powerhouse when planted in lean soil and will flower from late June until frost if deadheaded. Pair it with tall perennials like salvia (Salvia spp and cvs., zones 5–11), Burnett (Sanguisorba spp and cvs., zones 4–8), and conifers (Echinacea spp and cvs., zones 3-9) for a beautiful summer display. Rocky soil unless well drained. Water regularly during long dry periods for best flowering.


Elaine Rode is the owner of Paintbrush Garden Design in Calgary, Alberta.

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