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The Times
  • David Robson: Twice the flower power with annuals

  • Gardeners aren’t that different from most people. We want something others don’t have. We dream of plants not yet on the market. When they finally come around, we’re excited until everyone else has them. Then we lose interest.

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  • Gardeners aren’t that different from most people. We want something others don’t have. We dream of plants not yet on the market. When they finally come around, we’re excited until everyone else has them. Then we lose interest.
    That’s what keeps gardening exciting. Reblooming plants can get gardeners’ hands sweating and itching to plant, just like a juicy steak can set off salivary glands.
    By their nature, most annual flowers are rebloomers. A little pinching of the old flowers usually starts new flower buds. Some plants don’t even require pinching. They naturally keep setting more flowers.
    Probably the first repeat bloomer to make a mark on the market was Stella d’Oro daylily in the mid-1970s. Initially, plants sold for more than $75 each with the promise of blooming in mid- to late spring and then again throughout the summer after a couple weeks of rest. And the plants did perform.
    Soon, $75 fell to 75 cents per plant, as it produced lots of easy-to-divide shoots at the same time it produced more flowers. Soon, Stella d’Oro was everywhere, and gardeners lost interest.
    Is it overplanted? Probably, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It does what it does and does it perfectly. It makes an excellent little border plant, and if it keeps producing more than you need, give the shoots to friends or the compost pile.
    Daylily hybridizers tried to put the repeat blooming gene into other plants with mixed success. There are some other repeat bloomers, but Stella remains the golden star.
    Iris fanatics will argue they’ve been there, done that for years. And not just one plant. The list of remontant, or repeat blooming irises, is long. And not just for one size or color.
    The downside is location. If you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 9, there are many repeat bloomers. If you live in Zone 4, there are fewer.
    You can find reblooming irises that are barely six inches high, and some that tower at 30 inches. Imagine all the colors bearded irises come in, and you’ll have a good idea what’s available.
    The Reblooming Iris Society publishes a list of remontant irises. Find it at www.rebloomingiris.com.
    Sadly, that’s the extent of reblooming perennials except for those you cut back heavily and hope will produce another crop.
    Shrubs, lilacs, azaleas
    Shrubs are different. We’re seeing lots of effort into creating something new for gardeners.
    Landscape roses such as Knockout in all their glorious colors keep blooming with minimal care. You don’t need to deadhead each individual flower unless you have time on your hands. Just get out your electric hedge trimmers and give the plants a quick haircut on the sides and top. Water and fertilize, and the plants will respond with another flush of flowers within weeks.
    Page 2 of 2 - Endless Summer hydrangea should normally produce two crops of blue to pink flowers during the year, provided the plant doesn’t freeze back to the ground during winter — in that case, you get one crop.
    This year, 2012, will be the year many gardeners finally discover how wonderful the plants can be that many, with tongue in cheek, call Endless Bummers in normal years. The mild winter didn’t cause much dieback and plants are loaded with flowers. Provided we don’t experience a drought, plants should be beacons in the garden.
    Two new plant series may tempt gardeners, though lack of in-depth growing experience may give you pause.
    Bloomerang Lilacs are supposed to produce flowers later in the summer, though not as heavy as they do in early spring. Plants are supposedly hardy to USDA Zone 3. While not the first repeat blooming lilac (“Josee” is the most common), it will be the most consistent.
    Flowers aren’t as large as the common lilac, approaching more of the size and fragrance of the Manchurian lilacs such as “Miss Kim.” That’s good, as there’s less chance of powdery mildew disease that causes foliage to turn white.
    At the moment, Bloomerang lilacs come in purple. There likely will be additional colors down the road.
    Finally, Encore Azaleas are small plants in a whole host of colors, most with “Autumn” in the plant’s name.
    The problem with these azaleas, though, is winter hardiness. If you live in USDA Zones 6-10, you have a chance. Otherwise, you’ll need a sheltered spot, and hope your microclimate doesn’t get too cold during the winter.
    Or, plant the azaleas in a container, enjoy the spring and fall blooms, and then put them in a well-protected garage for the winter.
    David Robson is a specialist with University of Illinois Extension. For more gardening information or for your local extension unit office, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/mg.
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