Colourful border with monarda, alchemilla, echinacea and Lobelia cardinalis

How to plan for year-round colour

We give our tips on how to have a garden that provides colour throughout the year.

Most gardens look their best during a few weeks in summer. But with the right mix of plants, you can extend the season of interest, potentially with each month presenting something new to admire in the garden.

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The key to providing year-round interest is to have a strong backbone of shrubs and trees. These structural plants will prove especially useful in the winter months, when herbaceous perennials lie dormant below ground. Go for shrubs and trees that look good in different seasons, for example those bearing spring blossom and colourful autumn foliage.

With that said, it’s still a good idea to aim for some key months where your garden is looking its best. If you have just a few plants in flower each month, the overall impression could be a bit lacklustre. Instead, ensure you grow a generous selection of plants that are in flower, fruit or leaf at the same time to get a really spectacular display at certain times of the year.

More year-round garden content:

Discover ways to grow plants for interest in every month of the year, below.


Winter

Cyclamen coum growing with snowdrops
Cyclamen coum growing with snowdrops

There’s less to do or see in the winter garden, compared with the other seasons, but you can still create fantastic displays by planting fewer plants, en masse. Think carpets of snowdrops, winter aconites, cyclamens and crocuses. Many of these can be planted in autumn to flower in winter and spring.

Winter is also the ideal time to plan ahead for colour in the months to come. Make a list of plants that flower in each month, and find out when you need to plant them. Bare-root shrubs and trees can be bought for a lower price than potted plants in winter and, depending on what you plant, can provide colourful winter flowers and stems. Witch hazel, chimonanthus and willow are all lovely choices. You can also buy bare-root perennials in winter, though it’s best to pot these up and harden them off in a cold frame before planting them out in spring.

Despite the lower light levels and cooler temperatures, you can also get ahead and sow seeds such as sweet peas, aubergines and dahlias in winter. If sowing indoors, reserve a warm, bright spot to avoid weak, spindly seedlings.

Don’t forget to carry out any necessary winter pruning at this time. For many plants, pruning is crucial to ensure they remain healthy and that you get the best display from them later on. Discover what to prune in winter.

Winter garden projects:


Spring

Dividing a hosta clump
Dividing a hosta clump

As the soil warms in spring, it’s the ideal time to mulch borders, which will provide nutrients for plants and help the soil retain moisture. It’s also a great time to plant perennials. To ensure months of colour, go for perennials that respond well to deadheading or being cut back for more flowers. There are lots to grow, including knautia, cosmos and dahlias.

If you have seedlings from sowings made earlier in the year, start hardening them off in a cold frame before planting them outside. This will protect them from the worst weather while acclimatising them to lower temperatures. You can also continue sowing seeds, including those of annuals that will provide beautiful flowers later on in the year. Try sowing seeds in batches every two weeks. In doing so, you’ll have plants of varying ages, so as one group finishes flowering, another is ready to take over.

Don’t let a tired lawn distract from the efforts you’ve put into the rest of the garden. Let it complement the rest of the garden by giving it a spring lawn boost in four steps.

At the end of spring, it’s important to prune any spring-flowering shrubs that flower on growth produced in the previous year’s growth, such as weigela, deutzia, philadelphus and forsythia. Prune later and you risk losing out on flowers next spring. Prune shrubs that flower on the current year’s growth in early spring.

In May you could carry out the Chelsea chop to delay flowering. Try it with half the stems on a herbaceous perennial to spread the show of flowers over a longer period, or cut back all stems to delay flowering by four to six weeks.

Lastly, perennials that flower in summer and autumn can be divided in spring, to produce new plants for free. Plants you can do this with include hemerocallis, ornamental grasses, hostas and rudbeckias.

Spring garden projects:


Summer

Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve'
Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ with astrantias and cirsium

For most gardens, summer is the high-season in terms of colour and interest. To keep the colour going it’s important you keep your plants well fed and watered, especially in hot, dry spells.

Deadheading is ideal for plants that will repeat-flower, but it’s not suitable for everything. Avoid deadheading plants that won’t re-flower, such as astilbes, peonies, ligularias and baptisias. Do a little research around the plants you’re growing if unsure. Discover repeat-flowering perennials to grow.

Continued sowing through summer will ensure you have a continual supply of new plants to help fill any gaps in colour. The increased warmth and long, bright days provide the perfect conditions to sow biennials, fast-growing annuals and winter bedding. As well as continuing to sow seeds, you can also start collecting seeds from plants as they start producing seedheads, such as aquilegias and astrantias.

By midsummer some perennials will start to run out of steam. These plants can be cut back hard to produce a second flush of foliage and flowers. Plants that you can do this with include alchemilla, catmint, delphinium, aquilegias and hardy geraniums.

Throughout summer you can take cuttings from a wide variety of plants. This is a great way of ensuring you always have a stock of new plants to provide colour when needed. Softwood cuttings are usually taken from early summer and semi-ripe cuttings from late summer.

Summer garden projects:


Autumn

Honesty seed pods
Honesty seed pods

Towards the end of summer, lots of plants are just coming into flower, and will continue flowering right through autumn until the first frosts. Keep up with deadheading to ensure they carry on blooming for as long as possible.

Autumn is the time to sow seeds that need a period of cold, or stratification, before they can germinate. This includes lots of hardy annuals that will flower next year, like poppies, nigella, phacelia and forget-me-nots. Autumn is also the ideal time to plant – potted perennials, shrubs and trees, and spring-flowering bulbs can all be planted now. If your garden is lacking in autumn colour, check out these autumn planting combinations for inspiration.

Towards the end of autumn, you’ll need to stop deadheading some plants, and avoid cutting back others, to allow them to produce seedheads. Not only are some seedheads highly ornamental, but they’ll also provide seeds for birds. This includes plants like rudbeckias, sunflowers and thistles. Discover more plants that provide food for birds.

Autumn is a good time to divide congested, clump-forming perennials that have finished flowering. Try to get into a habit of doing this – in doing so you will be constantly regenerating the plants, ensuring they’re as productive and colourful as possible.

Autumn garden projects:

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Keep a record

A handy way to keep track of what your garden offers is to keep a record of what’s looking good throughout the year.

Going month by month, make lists of what’s in flower, fruit or otherwise of interest at that time. Once you have each month completed, you’ll be able to get an at-a-glance look at your best months, as well as which months are lacking. Take pictures so you have visual references to refer to aswell if you like. If you spot a month with little to offer, you can focus your efforts on planting more for that time of year.

Tithonia

Most gardens look their best during a few weeks in summer. But with the right mix of plants, you can extend the season of interest, potentially with each month presenting something new to admire in the garden.

The key to providing year-round interest is to have a strong backbone of shrubs and trees. These structural plants will prove especially useful in the winter months, when herbaceous perennials lie dormant below ground. Go for shrubs and trees that look good in different seasons, for example those bearing spring blossom and colourful autumn foliage.

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