By Marty Ross
Everyone loves a garden bursting with a rich and exuberant symphony of blooms. But the progression of flowers through the seasons truly makes a garden shine. There are many glorious moments and months in Midwestern gardens.
Making a note of your favorite flowers’ bloom times allows you not only to savor the anticipation as the garden develops but also to orchestrate the show. If you know when flowers bloom, you can make sure there’s always something going on—and you can build on your knowledge to experiment with new plant combinations through the seasons.
Mental notes are good, but snapshots and a few observations jotted down on a calendar or in a document in your computer are even better. Let’s take a look through the seasons:
Spring into Bloom
Plant lots of spring-flowering bulbs in the fall and you’ll have a big spring splash to look forward to. Crocuses are the first to bloom. The show goes on through spring with scilla and many other small bulbs, followed by the showstopping daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips. Plant tall alliums and you’ll have a constantly changing display of bulb flowers until roses bloom.
Every interesting garden has many layers of bloom, from the tree canopy to ground covers. Spring-blooming magnolia trees (M. x soulangeana and M. stellata) change the landscape when they come into bloom. Shrubs add substance and dimension—lilacs, forsythia, and various viburnums are among the best for spring bloom in the Midwest.
Roses usher in the summer, and many of them bloom vigorously for months. Plant them among perennial flowers that thrive in the same sunny conditions roses love: catmint, Russian sage, salvia, hyssop and lilies. Midwestern native coneflowers, gayfeathers, coreopsis, and black-eyed Susans flourish with roses too.
Annual flowers don’t seem to care how hot it gets. They start blooming when the weather warms up and keep on going—especially if you snip off spent blooms to encourage new growth. For long-lasting color, zinnias, cosmos, petunias, marigolds and lantana are all easy to grow. The butterflies soon find these flowers and set your garden aflutter.
When summer’s heat starts to ease, a new cast of fall flowers revives the garden show (and the gardener). Chrysanthemums and asters are traditional choices, and for good reason: They always look great, either in pots or in the ground. Sedums also come into bloom in the fall, attracting Monarch butterflies on their migration above the Midwest to Mexico.
As the days grow shorter, ornamental grasses shimmer in the softening autumn light, their tawny foliage and nodding plumes capturing the spirit of the prairie. They’re handsome as a backdrop for the season’s last roses, and they’re striking with mums, asters and late-blooming shrubs such as panicle hydrangeas.
A hard frost all but stops the succession of flowers, but bright days in winter still bring out a few surprising blooms. Native witch hazel’s sunny-yellow flowers extend the season into early winter. Plants with berries, such as hollies and viburnums, glow warmly in the winter garden. The red berries of deciduous hollies are particularly pretty in the snow.
You don’t have to give up flowers for the winter. Paperwhites (Narcissus spp.) bloom for weeks indoors. Plant these bulbs in early November in a bowl filled with gravel, and place the bowl in a bright, cool room. Voilá! Flowers for the Thanksgiving table. To keep the season bright, also plant big bulbs of amaryllis (also known as Hippeastrum) in pots indoors. Each tall flower stem produces four magnificent trumpet-shape flowers.
Discover strategies to keep a garden blooming spring through fall (and sometimes even winter!).Learn More