Our Best Bets for Dependable Color

We've answered a couple of your most often asked questions to get you started.
Ellen Ruoff Riley

There's something reassuring about flowers that come back every year. You anticipate their spring emergence like friends coming back from an extended vacation, rested and ready to get to work. And there's a whole passel of them to choose from. "You can find a perennial for just about any location; they're varied and extremely versatile," says Rick Berry with Goodness Grows in Lexington, Georgia.

Do Flowers Last All Summer?
Some, such as candytuft and 'Bath's Pink' dianthus produce flowers lasting only several weeks. Others continue for most of the summer. " 'Miss Huff' lantana, false aster, and the numerous verbenas flower continually," Rick says. There are also steadfast bloomers that offer color for several months at a time. When they finish blooming, just cut them back. "Iris anchor the spring border," he says. "Then, coneflowers--yellow and purple--take on summer, with perennial sunflowers rounding out autumn."

Do the Plants Live Forever?
The honest answer is no, but read on. Every perennial has its own personality, and once you know what to expect, success is easy. "The original 'Miss Huff' lantana has been going strong for almost 50 years in the same location, and peonies last a very long time with minimal maintenance," Rick explains. "Others are more transient and must be rejuvenated every few years to stay vigorous.

"Short-lived choices such as ox-eye daisies ( Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) and gloriosa daisies ( Rudbeckia hirta) live two to three years," he continues. "They need to reseed or be replaced to perpetuate. On the other hand, a daylily might live 10 to 12 years but should be divided every 3 to 5 years."

Start small by planting a few sure shots. Gain confidence, and add more next year. Before you know it, you'll be a pro.

This article is from the March 2005 issue of Southern Living.