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Fall is great time for picking out colorful perennials

A nice combination of perennials makes this flowerbed a lovely sight in midsummer. The plants include Mystic Spires blue salvia, Goldsturm rudbeckia and Pink Fountain gaura.
A nice combination of perennials makes this flowerbed a lovely sight in midsummer. The plants include Mystic Spires blue salvia, Goldsturm rudbeckia and Pink Fountain gaura. McClatchy file photo

While spring is often seen as the most important time for planting flowerbeds, don’t forget the opportunity fall presents for choosing and setting out perennials. These are truly investment plants that should perform for many years.

Many choices exist and the flowers we talk about here should all be available in local garden centers this fall.

One of the most important things to consider is that your flowerbed should not be a spring garden or a summer garden but one for all seasons.

In the Piedmont, with our long growing season, that is not a difficult thing to achieve. It just takes thinking about it. So that’s your first rule: Don’t sink all your space into one or two kinds of flowers. No matter how much you love irises or peonies or salvia or phlox, give them some good companions for contrast in form and color.

Because most perennials have a specific flowering season, aim your selections so that your garden looks pretty for the longest possible time. This is not so difficult because a lot of choices are in the marketplace. You just have to choose carefully. Start by thinking of three basic seasons: spring, summer and fall, and choose plants for those times so that the seasons are balanced with lovely bloom of varying styles, heights and color.

Once that is accomplished, you can study the gaps, which likely occur between or on the edge of the main seasons. These include late summer, when many salvias look their best, and early spring, a great moment for moss phlox, which is a marvelous edger. These times tend to be overlooked but should be worked on as you develop your flowerbeds.

And while you aim for variety, don’t miss the opportunity to establish a seasonal star. This could be Japanese or Siberian irises for mid-spring; daylilies for early summer; David phlox, Becky Shasta daisy or the best black-eyed susan, Goldsturm rudbeckia, for midsummer, and chrysanthemums or asters for fall. These and others can be your starring attractions while you plant others to supplement the season and keep the blooms opening every day.

An even though irises tend to have a shorter bloom season, if your passion for them is unyielding, you can look for a range of different types of irises that will keep the show going longer.

In making these selections you should give preference to those that have a long bloom season, such as Becky, Goldsturm and Moonbeam coreopsis, all easy to find in garden centers. Lenten roses have a very long bloom season beginning in mid-winter and are the perfect plant to launch the year. .

By choosing these stars first, you will have the opportunity to discover other perennials to fill gaps and enhance your color preferences to complete a flowerbed for all seasons.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I see snapdragons for sale in garden centers. Isn’t it too cold for them this winter?

A. No. snapdragons perform best when planted in the fall so that they are ready to grow again in late winter or early spring. You will get good bloom next spring from plants set out now. Also, snapdragons persist beyond the bloom season next year, so expect to have these plants for at least two blooming seasons, possibly longer.