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Foolproof perennials.

Plant them now to spruce up summer beds and borders

Fall may be the best time to set out perennials so they can settle in during the cooler winter months, but May is when most nurseries tempt you with great selections of blooming plants in gallon containers. Don't resist: it's okay to indulge in a little instant gratification. In all but the hottest desert areas, gardeners can still plant perennials this month.

When you shop, buy plants that will deliver the longest show for your money, with minimal fuss.

14 EASY PERENNIALS TO BUY IN BLOOM

Aster frikartii 'Monch'. Daisylike lavender-blue flowers; plants 3 ft. tall. Sun. All Sunset climate zones.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia grandiflora). Daisylike flowers in shades of red and yellow with orange or maroon bands. Sun. All zones.

Cape fuchsia (Phygelius). Shrubby perennial with drooping, fuchsia-like flowers in pink, red, or pale yellow; to 4 ft. tall. Sun or light shade. Zones 4-9, 14-24.

Catmint (Nepeta faassenii). Spikes of lavender-blue flowers on mounding plants with gray-green foliage. Sun. All zones.

Coreopsis. Daisylike flowers in yellow, orange, maroon, or red. Full sun. Zones vary.

Diascia. Low-growing plants with coral, pink, or lavender flowers on ends of stems. Full sun to partial shade. Zones 7-9, 14-24.

Gaura lindheimeri. Spikes of white or pink blossoms. Full sun. All zones.

Nemesia fruticans. Vanilla-scented lavender and pink or white flowers on a bushy evergreen plant; to 1 ft. tall. Zones 16-24.

Penstemon hybrids. 'Apple Blossom' (pink), 'Firebird' (red), and 'Midnight' (purple) are particularly long-blooming varieties. Sun. Zones vary.

Pincushion flower (Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue' and 'Pink Mist'). Lacy-looking, 1-inch-wide blue or pink flowers. Blooms much of year in mild climates. Full sun. All zones.

Salvia. Salvia coccinea (red; zones 14-24) blooms from spring to fall if deadheaded. Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha; purple; zones 10-24) blooms from late spring to late fall. Sun.

Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus). Bears masses of 3/4-inch white and pinkish daisies. Sun or light shade. Zones 8-9, 12-24.

Scaevola aemula. Sprawling plants produce masses of lavender-blue flowers. Full sun. Zones 8-9, 14-24.

Verbena. Mostly ground cover plants that thrive in heat. 'Homestead Purple' grows up to 18 in. tall and has large (2 in.) purple flower heads. Varieties of V. peruviana come in pink, purple, red, and white, and stay 3 in. tall. Sun. Zones vary.

PLANTING TIPS

* Before planting, soak the rootballs by immersing nursery cans up to the rims in a water-filled sink or tub as long as overnight.

* Amend the soil in the planting hole with organic matter such as compost to improve water retention.

* If roots are tightly coiled, gently pry them apart with your hands or use a sharp knife to score the root mass.

* After planting, spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch such as compost around plants to keep roots cool and soil moist. Keep mulch off crown of plant.

* Be prepared to water plants as often as twice a day until their roots get established.

* About two weeks after planting, begin regular feeding with a gentle liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion.

* Clip faded blooms regularly. Shear off spent blossoms of ground-hugging plants, such as catmint, diascia, Santa Barbara daisy, and verbena, when 80 percent of the flowers have faded. Pinch or snip off blossoms of blanket flower and pincushion flower one at a time. On penstemon, cut the entire stalk down to the base of the plant.
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Title Annotation:includes list of 14 easy perennials to buy in bloom
Author:Swezey, Lauren Bonar
Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1999
Words:570
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