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All Seasons Gardening: Planting for Year Round Color

We all love the abundance of flowers in the spring and summer — after sometimes long and dreary winters, it does a heart good to see such vibrant colors in our gardens, right? Even the fall has its share of harvest hues with its gorgeous fall flowers and fall garden plants, but often when cooler seasons hit, our gardens are often left with nothing. But guess what? It doesn’t have to be that way at all! Depending upon where you live, you might not be able to enjoy actual flowers in the winter months, but that doesn’t mean settling for no color at all.

Let’s look at some creative ways to add plants for year-round color, looking at every part of the plant itself.

Leaves: Leaves are an often-forgotten garden feature, but they really shouldn’t be. Look for plants with leaves that are anything but medium green — chartreuse, maroon, red, purple, or variegated with green and white. In my yoga deck garden, I got excited and planted too many things with medium green leaves — the sizes and textures were all amazing, but the color is too monotonous. So I’ve spent the last year slowly adding in dark-leafed cannas and bright green abelias and oh! What a difference it makes.

Bark & Stems: Even if there’s not a flower or leaf to be found, interesting bark and colorful stems go a long way to adding interest in the garden. Some barks are papery, while others are smooth or have rough textures. And the stems! Plants like red twig dogwood with their flaming branches, then stand back and behold the drama that unfolds.

Evergreens: Evergreens are plants that are green all year long, no matter the weather — they do not “drop” their leaves in the winter. Many shrubs and trees are evergreens, for example, and provide great structure in the garden. They may not be the shining stars in the garden from season to season, but they offer up the steady and consistent green backdrop. Think pines, boxwoods, loropetalums, yaupons — do a search on “evergreen plants for (your city)” and see what comes up, or ask your local garden center for recommendations.

Flowers: If you live in a milder zone and can actually have some flowering plants all year long, make a list of those that are recommended for your area and then study the times of year that they will bloom. It’s tempting to add in all the spring-flowering bulbs and perennials, but you’ll be happy later in the season if you pay attention to bloom times when you are planting.

Other Factors to Consider

Planting for year round color comes with responsibility. Knowing the elements you’ll face like wind, rain, and temperature can dramatically impact your garden. Knowing your local weather patterns is a good start to making sure you’re hard work pays off all year long.

If you’ve lived in your area for a long time, you’re likely very familiar with these conditions, but if you’ve recently moved to a new and unfamiliar climate, it pays to do a bit of research before planting and planning your garden. So, let’s take a look at these weather elements and how you can use the information to plan out a successful garden.

WIND: If you live in an area of high wind — coastal areas, exposed locations, and wind-tunnel valleys, for example — you’ll need to factor that into your garden design and plant selection. Consider including a windbreak (a collection of trees and/or shrubs) along the perimeter of your property to diminish the strength of the wind, and use plants in garden beds that are wind-tolerant. Use a thick layer of mulch in your beds to protect from wind damage, moisture loss, weeds, and erosion — all common issues with windy sites.

RAIN: Start by knowing not only your average rainfall but the times of the year when rain is likely. Consider Seattle, Washington, and Austin, Texas. You’d think that their average rainfall amounts would be significantly different, right? After all, one is in the rainy Pacific Northwest and the other is on the edge of the arid Southwest. But Seattle has less than 3 inches more rain than Austin annually — so it’s the fact that Seattle’s rain falls on 92 days out of the year, compared to Austin’s measly 50 days that makes such a difference. This means that plant choices are vastly different in these two locations, even though their average annual rainfall is very similar.

TEMPERATURE: Locations that have mild winters and searingly hot summers are hospitable to vastly different plants than those that are common in more northern areas. Agaves, for example, aren’t going to live very long in Vermont or Connecticut. Look at month-by-month average temps rather than annual averages, and know which plants prefer what season. Pansies are winter plants, but are a favorite springtime plant in a colder climate.

Note: Plants that are native to your area are naturally adapted to your local weather patterns, making them ideal and logical choices.

About the Author:

Jenny Peterson

Jenny Peterson is a landscape designer and urban farmer living in Austin, Texas. She comes from a family of gardeners and her gardens include drought-tolerant plants, herbs, veggies, and a wildflower pollinator garden. As a breast cancer survivor, Jenny specializes in gardens that heal from the inside out.

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