Sequence of Bloom in Your Wildlife Garden

Sequence of bloom - as some native perennials fade, others begin to flower.

Sequence of bloom – as some native perennials fade, others begin to flower and take center stage.

One of the most challenging aspect of designing a wildlife garden is figuring out sequence of bloom, always having something blooming in your garden, not only for color and interest but also to provide food sources for local wildlife.

While trees and shrubs are the backbone of any garden, those that flower do so for very short periods of time. When you consider that most perennials bloom for 3 – 4 weeks, it’s no wonder mastering sequence of bloom is such challenge.

Start With a Plan

Make a list of all the plants, and their bloom times, you currently have in your garden. Grab a piece of paper and create a column for each month and one for your list of plants.

Add your current plants in the rows and color in the month, or portion of the month, in which they bloom. This isn’t an exact science so don’t worry about being too precise. Before you know it, you’ll see some patterns developing.

Note when you need more color. If you’re like many gardeners, you’ll have loads of color in the late spring and throughout the summer but you might find you’re light on color, and nectar sources, in the late winter, early spring and fall.

The bowl-shaped flowers of coreopsis make ideal landing pads.

The bowl-shaped flowers of coreopsis make ideal landing pads.

Make a list of native plants that bloom during your garden’s down time. Check with reliable local sources for the best options for your garden.

Pollinators prefer different types of flowers so strive for a variety of flowers in different colors, sizes and shapes during each season.

Look for double-duty plants – those that are larval host plants or offer berries or fruit later in the season.

Finalize your list and take it with you when you go plant shopping. Remember to shop throughout each growing season since many nurseries tend to stock plants that are in bloom. It can be next to impossible to find fall-blooming plants like Solidago in the spring.

Be strong and resist the blooming eye-candy. Buy what’s on your list!

Color, Color Everywhere

Build your garden around a few long-blooming perennials that offer color for months, not just days, such as Achillea, Coreopsis, Echinacea, Helenium and Rudbeckia.

If you garden in Connecticut or one of the other New England states, here’s a short list of natives – listed by sequence of bloom, to get you started.

Erythronium americanum (yellow trout-lily)

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

Geranium maculatum (wild geranium)

Tiarella cordifolia (foamflower)

Asclepias tuberosa (common milkweed)

Campanula rotundifolia (harebell)

Penstemon digitalis (Foxglove beardtongue)

Monarda fistulosa (bee balm)

Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s root)

Eutrochium purpureum (Joe Pye weed)

Rudbeckia hirta (Brown-eyed Susan)

Helenium autumnale (common sneezeweed)

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Fanny’s Aster’  (Aster ‘Fanny’).

To find native plants for your garden, check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s native plant database.

Design Tips

Upright flower spikes of Culver's root  are attractive to bees and butterflies.

Upright flower spikes of Culver’s root are attractive to bees and butterflies.

Combine plants with similar bloom times and repeat or build on these combinations throughout your garden.

Plant in multiples to better attract pollinators and make your garden sing.

Right plant, right place still applies – Always keep in mind your garden’s specific cultural requirements when choosing and siting plants.

It’s OK to add annuals to fill in the inevitable gaps. Just look for annuals that have  high wildlife value, like tropical milkweed or one of the annuals in this habitat planter.

Have fun. Mastering sequence in bloom is a process. Embrace your victories, build on your mistakes and enjoy the wildlife all the colorful flowers entice into your garden.

© 2013, Debbie Roberts. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. says

    Debbie, thanks for a great post. I like the plan you suggested. I look forward to giving it a try as I think about possible changes I want to make. I agree totally as to the value of plants that do double duty by serving as larval and nectar plants, as well as those that have a long bloom period. I find it interesting that most of the natives you suggest for Connecticut also work well in Kentucky.
    Betty Hall recently posted..Lacewings in January

  2. says

    Great tips, Debbie! Since I ripped out my entire wildlife garden last summer, I’m now in the process of planning what I’m going to add this year, and year-round wildlife value is what I’m looking for. In addition, I’d like to have something in bloom from early spring through late fall, plus berrying shrubs and other winter wildlife food. Your tips will help me do this.

    As for the Tropical Milkweed, if you live from South Carolina and south through Florida and across the south to Southern California, this plant should NOT be included in your wildlife garden planning. In these areas it does not function as an annual, but persists through the winter. It is causing some problems for Monarch populations in their migratory behavior as well as introducing some parasite issues.
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..My Interview on Real Dirt With Ken Druse

  3. says

    Great post Debbie . . . if only I could be so organized. I tend to make lists and then forget them! One thing I do often is harvest seeds of my plants and scatter them about the garden but then that does not address your excellent point about diversity. You offer a terrific list with helpful links. I am so lucky to be near Nasami Farm http://www.newenglandwild.org/visit/nasami-farm/welcome-to-nasami-farm-2010.html/?searchterm=nasami%20farm and do add a few different varieties of plants and shrubs each year. I also like to share plants with other gardeners and confess to helping myself to seeds from our food co-op’s native plantings. It is fun to think about all this as I look out on a white and bitter cold landscape.
    Carol Duke recently posted..Gazing Into A Wintry Landscape of Wonder

  4. Peggy says

    I have Monarda didyma in my backyard, and some type of insect is eating the leaves. I have tried natural pesticides, soapy water, to no avail. The insect doesn’t bother any of my other plants. I need to figure this out soon so I can avoid not having these beautiful, beneficial plants from blooming this spring. Any suggestions?

    • says

      Peggy, It’s difficult to give any very specific advice without some additional details. Are the insects attacking all parts of the plant? Does it still flower? When are the attacks happening? Monarda are susceptible not only to fungus like powdery mildew but also to some insects – but some are beneficial. I’m pleased to hear you’re not over-reacting and are using natural control methods. I’d suggest watching and waiting, especially if your monarda is flowering and taking photos of your pests and then doing some research to see if you can ID them. A website like bugguide.net is a good place to start. If you can’t find your insects there you can always upload a photo and see if the experts can help identify what’s attacking your plants. Good luck.
      Debbie recently posted..Barking Up The Right Tree

  5. says

    Hi, I came here because I received an incoming link to my blog. I was curious first to how you got to my blog then was curious to the title of this post. Designing wildlife gardens is something I do as a designer, but it is something not often requested by clients for any number of reasons. One being to see continuous bloom as you addressed. My own garden has many plants of native cultivars because it is a small city garden. I also service wildlife with it as a priority. I have a post coming up on this particular subject tomorrow and when I saw the link to this post, thought it was timely. What turns off many from native plantings is the aggressiveness of some natives. I address that and wish more who write on native plants would as well. Citing some of the negatives helps people choose wisely for the benefit of the wildlife that they wish to attract. If a plant does not perform or over-performs, it surely will get removed. Too many writers do not tell readers what to expect over time. That is key too.
    Donna recently posted..Grassland Birds in Decline – Bobolink

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  1. [...] One of the most challenging aspect of designing a wildlife garden is figuring outsequence of bloom, always having something blooming in your garden, not only for color and interest but also to provide food sources for local wildlife. While trees and shrubs are the backbone of any garden, those that flower do so for very short periods of time. When you consider that most perennials bloom for 3 – 4 weeks, it’s no wonder mastering sequence of bloom is such challenge.  [...]

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