Awesome Annuals and Prime Perennials to Liven Up Your Yard
Eau Claire master gardener offers tips on brightening up your garden
words & photos by Paula Bonnin
The great actor and comedian Robin Williams once said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’ ” Unfortunately, in the Chippewa Valley, it’s spring, and then it’s summer, and then it’s winter again – all in a span of two weeks. We all know that the weather in our area is like a Magic 8-Ball: Shake it up and it changes. Most of the perennial plants we grow in our area love warm weather and dislike freezing overnight temperatures – as do the bees and the bugs. It’s best to wait to plant until our daytime temperatures reach a consistent 50 degrees. You want to find plants that are hardy – meaning they can survive in colder night temperatures, like we often see in early spring and fall.
There are two types of plants that can be grown here: perennials and annuals. Annuals are the one-season-and-done type of plants, unless they can be overwintered indoors. Most are difficult to overwinter indoors without humidity and the right temperature. The second is perennials, or plants that blossom annually.
Annual ornamental plants include Gerbera Daisies and Sunflowers. I love to grow both of these annuals in my garden and especially love the numerous varieties of sunflowers that the bees and butterflies love. The only major problem with planting sunflowers is that squirrels, chipmunks, and birds all love sunflower seeds, so make sure to use a Liquid Fence-type product to keep your seeds from being a critter’s lunch! You can also save your sunflowers and dry them so you can plant the seeds again the following year, or roast them and eat them.
Perennials for our zone – which can range from a 2 to a 4 – are numerous. Perennials can be used for cutting and putting into vases, feeding the bees and butterflies, or just making your yard look pretty. You can find perennials that are sun-loving, shade-loving, or a mix of the two. I’m going to touch on two plants that are sun-loving plants and a plant that is a shade- (and partial sun-) loving plant.
The two sun perennials that I grow and love are Echinacea, otherwise known as Coneflowers, and Allium, otherwise known as wild onion. Both of these flowers are amazingly hardy, are bee and butterfly attractants, and can come in an array of colors.
Echinacea is a flower that in the spring and summer attracts the bees and butterflies, and in the fall – if you don’t cut it down – feeds the birds. The colors in the petals range from traditional pink to blaze orange, lime green, fiery yellow, red, and white. The flowers on echinacea plants can get to be 4½ inches around! They are a beautiful addition to any sun-loving garden. Echinacea is also an herb that can be harvested and use in a tea or even applied to the skin. (Remember to check with your healthcare provider before taking any herbal supplements.)
Allium, in my opinion, is one of the easiest and best-growing perennials you can have in a garden. The stems of the allium shoot up from the foliage to present a beautiful purple, lavender, or white ball-shaped flower in all shapes and sizes. My allium started shooting up out of the ground two weeks ago and are just waiting for the warm weather to return! Allium is great for people who live out in the country, as deer do not like them.
The shade-loving plant that I highly suggest is one that you honestly can’t kill. For all of you plant-killers out there, this is the plant for you: hostas! Hostas thrive in shade, with colors that range from dark green to white; they have striped, frilly, and downright huge varieties. Believe it or not, there are even hostas named after Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. So, if you live in a mostly shaded area, hostas are the easy go-to perennial for you.
If you need any plants, garden ceramics, or gardening tools, make sure to come to the Eau Claire Garden Club Plant and Craft Sale on Saturday, May 22 at Plymouth United Church of Christ, 2010 Moholt Drive, Eau Claire. You can ask gardening- or plant-related questions to any of the members who are there to help.
Paula Bonnin is an Eau Claire County Master Gardener Volunteer and a board member for the Eau Claire Garden Club.