Tips to prolong flowering displays
Include some long-flowering stalwarts
Some plants naturally bloom for a long period: use these plants to provide continuity in the border, bridging the gaps between other plants, such as peonies, that you cannot live without but which flower only too briefly.
Remember, too, that if you love the look of a particular plant, there may be related species that have the same look but flower at different times: if you have the space, you could have a ceanothus in bloom somewhere in the garden from spring through to autumn.
- Look at new varieties with more flower power
‘Stella d’Oro’ was the first of several repeat-flowering hemerocallis (daylily) to be offered to the gardening public, and since then breeders have produced more longer-flowering perennials, such as the new ‘super poppies’ – repeat flowering oriental poppies such as ‘Medallion’ and ‘Snow White’ – and new repeat-flowering versions of classic shrubs such as ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas, ‘Red Prince’ and ‘Carnaval’ weigelas, and ‘Bloomerang’ and ‘Josee’ lilacs.
- Select perfect plants for gap-filling by visiting your local garden centre
Plants in flower always sell better, so you’ll always be able to see a good selection in bloom. Look for those just coming into bud to see what will follow on.
- Incorporate some quick-fix colour
Don’t forget how useful bedding plants can be to tide plantings over between flushes of flowers. They have been bred to flower for months on end, often until quite late in the season.
Develop an eye for deadheading
Many perennials and some shrubs will flower for longer, or produce a second flush of flowers, if dead flower heads are pinched, snipped or sheared off.
The key to successful deadheading is to do it in a way that takes into account the growth habit of the plant, and to feed the plant with a high-potash fertiliser to boost its strength for renewed flower production.
- Pick off individual flowers to encourage more to form
The classic plants that reward deadheading are the modern, repeat-flowering roses, but it also brings out the best in annuals and summer bedding.
It’s well worth deadheading perennials, too, except for those that you are keeping for their seed heads – many will form new flowers, and they will all look fresher.
- Cut back tall stems for new flower spires
Once the main flower spire of delphiniums and aconites has faded, cut the whole stem back to a sideshoot (or, if you cannot find one, to a healthy leaf about halfway down) and the plant should produce several new, smaller flower spires later in the season.
You can use the same technique on penstemons, solidago, lupins and Phlox paniculata.
- Shear bushy plants for a second flush of growth
Plants such as hardy geraniums that are covered in small flowers are impractical to deadhead; instead, use shears to give the whole plant a 'haircut' this will remove a lot of fading, tatty foliage, too.
The plants will produce a new, much fresher flush of growth and, often, a second flush of flowers. Shear lavender and Spiraea japonica immediately the flowers start to fade and they will flower again in the autumn.
Read more: Edible flower recipes
Cut plants back to flower later
If you're going on holiday in summer, there's no need to miss the show. You can postpone the flowering of dahlias and put many bedding plants, such as Bellis perennis, pansies and antirrhinums, 'on hold' by stripping off all buds and flowers before you leave. By the time you return, new flowers will just be opening.
- Stagger flowering times with clever pruning
You can delay the flowering time of many plants, especially small shrubs like hebes and herbs, by cutting them back fairly hard in spring or early summer, just as they are starting to produce new shoots.
Alternatively, cut back half the shoots so that the plant as a whole flowers over a longer period. The shoots that were cut back will regrow and come into flower as the first flush of blooms is fading.
Read more: Learn about the secret language of flowers
Keep the flowering momentum going
So many plantings start to fade at the end of summer that it's easy to forget that there are several weeks of good flowering weather left once the popular plants have finished for the year.
Make sure you have plenty of plants with striking seed heads, such as sputnik-like alliums and pepper pot poppies, but don't give up on colour yet: the daisy-flowered prairie-style perennials, such as echinaceas, rudbeckias and heleniums, are great for late colour, but asters and chrysanthemums reign supreme at this time of year.
Don't forget bulbs, too: nerines, gladioli, dahlias and schizostylis will flower until the first really severe frost.
- Use bulbs to mark the end of winter
Plant snowdrops, aconites and the earliest crocuses among scented winter treats, such as daphne, shrubby honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) and sarcococca, and you'll be able to spot the very first signs of spring as their leaf-tips emerge from the soil.