"Top ten long-bloomers"

These plants bloom for ages!
Sunday, 14 April 2024     

Salvia Love and Wishes blooms all year

Once upon a time, I was thrilled by the brief flowering of some Himalayan or European rarity or other, which would be in bloom for barely a few days. It was enough to know that I had succeeded to grow my treasure well enough to allow it to flower. The fact that I had to wait another 12 months for the performance to be repeated was irrelevant! (Though often it never was repeated, as the plant would die, being totally unsuited to the Sydney climate.) My approach to gardening was to peer closely at individual plants, not to see the big picture of how the garden actually looked as a whole.

These days, I look for plants with the longest flowering period possible, so that my garden can be colourful for months with little effort from me. I do love seasonal highlights, but I also want continuity of colour. Many of these plants will benefit from deadheading to help keep them tidy and to prolong with their lengthy display. Eventually, they will become woody, exhausted by their extensive flowering: then it is time to propagate or purchase a new specimen!

1. One plant that I admire most often is shrubby Pentas lanceolota. Hailing from tropical Africa, Madagascar and the Arabian Peninsula, this compact plant (ht around 1 m, though some are a little taller) is continually covered in cute posies of dainty, star-shaped flowers, in colours of white, varying shades of pink, cerise, purple, mauve and red. It will grow in sun or part-shade and only stop flowering (briefly) in the depths of winter. It does not turn a hair on the most torrid of summer days. It suits semitropical style gardens or more cottagey style. I am not a fan of the dwarf hybrids, as they don't seem to have the staying power of the larger forms.

2. Salvias can be very long flowering, especially the smaller-leaved ones: those with large, soft foliage tend to be seasonal in their blooming patterns. Ones I regard as 'good doers' included 'Indigo Spires', the 'Wish' series ('Wendy's Wish', 'Love and Wishes' and 'Ember's Wish'), Salvia splendens (the taller forms, rather than the miniature ones, and especially the purple and pink-flowered specimens), cerise-pink 'San Carlos Festival', lovely blue-mauve 'Mesa Azure' and purple 'Amistad', as long as it is kept under surveillance. It benefits from being cut back several times a year - it bounces back very quickly. The cultivars mentioned all do best in full sun.

3. Another shrub that flowers for simply ages is Abutilon. These lovely plants, with their Chinese lantern blooms, come in colours of oranges, yellows, white, pinks, reds and cerise, and they flower for most of the year, having a rest in November (when they can be pruned). They will grow in sun or part-shade. Their main foe is the nasty leaf-rolling caterpillars that turns up in summer; I use the non-toxic spray Success to combat them. Abution plants sometimes self-seed, producing offspring with interesting colours, such as the pinkish-red one pictured, which appeared in the garden of a friend.

4. Cane Begonia varieties are exceptionally long-flowering, and they flourish in inhospitable dry shade. The old-fashioned white and pink ones are probably the toughest, rather than the fancier cultivars (though these still do pretty well), and will basically bloom all year, only stopping (momentarily) when they are pruned in early September!

5. Pelargonium plants can be a bit hit and miss in our climate, due to our summer humidity, but 'Big Red' is one of the very best. This is a zonal Pelargonium that seems to be always in bloom. It does best in a sunny, well-drained position; it can also thrive in a pot. Ivy Pelargonium specimens are also very good value for lengthy flowering.

6. Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens), a small shrubby perennial, that is very long-flowering. The heads of tiny flowers are mauve, deep purple or white, and have a sweet vanilla fragrance. The cultivar 'Aurea' has attractive lime-hued foliage. Heliotrope does best in sun. I cut mine back very hard in early September.

7. The perennial form of Cleome is an amazingly floriferous plant. It has a shrubby shape, quite different from the annual variety, and it has pink, purple and white forms. It can be cut back a few times over summer and will rejuvenate and continue on blooming most of the year. It is best in a sunny position. It can exhaust itself after a year or so but can be propagated via cuttings.

8.Mussaenda frondosa is an interesting largish shrub that has small orange flowers attached to large white bracts, which last for an extremely long time. It seems to grow wide to make a canopy and really is a striking plant. It is related to Pentas and I grow a tall white Pentas underneath it to echo the brilliant white of the bracts. I cut it back very hard in later winter.

9. Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' is another highly recommended long-bloomer. It seems to be always covered in a cloud of dainty, white flowers. It can be cut back when it becomes untidy and will soon be in bloom again. It grows in sun or part-shade and also looks good in a pot. It is a great filler in a garden bed. There is a miniature form, but it is not as striking as the taller form, which gets to about 60 cm in height.

10. The good old shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana) is another stalwart in my garden. The classic form is brownish-red, but there are lime-yellow, pink and yellow, and burgundy varieties. There is an excellent minature form that is wonderful when used as a low, informall hedge in shade. Like many of these plants, they only stop flowering when they are pruned! I usually cut them back (as with many of my semitropical shrubby perennials) in late winter. Other recommended Justicia that are long flowering include Justicia carnea and Justicia scheidweileri.

Planting some of these plants will ensure that your garden will have long-lasting colour!

Blog originally published on 22 April 2018; updated 14 April 2024.

 Reader Comments

1/13  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

Agree with your list of plants which perform and flower well over a long period. Particularly pertinent over our long, hot summer period. This summer I have found that cosmos and dahlias performed extremely well, flowering from November until now. A bonus with these, plus the zinnias, is that they self seed readily, and so pop up the following season(s, without much effort on my part! The self-seeding plants are terrific value, In my garden it is Browallia and Amaranthus that pop up all over the place and flower for a very long time. Deirdre

2/13  Shaun - 2075 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

Deidre, Thanks you, I love early morning reading of your blog! You are a devoted and generous gardener! Thanks so much, Shaun. Deirdre

3/13  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

Great article Dierdre! I actually sprained my hip muscle yesterday digging out all the dead & unhealthy plants that haven"t survived or thrived this Summer so once I"m recovered i have a good list of plants to replace them with. Thank you! Hope you are recovered now! Hope some of these plants will prove good replacements for the ones you removed. Deirdre

4/13  Anne - 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

I have had no luck with new cleome - every one I buy only survives for a short time. the pink, white purple "annual" ones however are great prickly survivors and give me constant colour. Also have had no luck with Big Red or Big Pink. The Syd Bot Gdns had a magnificent display this summer with lots of zinnias in amongst it. Salvias are great and agree with you re the shrimp plant - the two different pink justicias provide long colour too. Love that kniphofia you featured. Great colour. I am wondering about the perennial cleome and why it hasn"t done well for you. I do know they like a bit of space around them so they aren not hemmed in, and to be trimmed back periodically. They need full sun. They last about two years for me so not really true perennials but they would not have stopped flowering in that time. Shame about Big Red and Big Rose not doing well either. I find they need good drainage and lots of sun; I have success in pots with Big Rose. Will visit the Sydney Botanic Garden again soon. Deirdre

5/13  Lloyd - 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 23 April 2018

Have had an interesting experience with Justicia, the pink one. I assumed it would do well under the shade of a large Sasanqua. But had to give the Sasanqua a heavy prune - a hatstand prune - and the Justicia has burst into life and blossom. Most rewarding. Didn"t see them as sun loving. And they have gone on blossoming for the last several months. It sounds a great success. They are tolerant of sun and do produce more blooms in a sunny spot, but in my experience they also flower well in shade, but not deep, dark shade. Deirdre

6/13  Linda - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

Deirdre, your weekend local Garden Club opening was brilliant demonstration of the possibility of cascades of form and colour after our Sizzling Season, using many varieties of the above-mentioned plants. I"m SURE all readers would love to see a few sweeping shots of what you have achieved. Please put up a whole article devoted to YOUR GARDEN, using your best shots. Fingers crossed you can overcome modesty and just show what a dedicated gardener can do ... in awe ... Linda Thanks, Linda. I do have an entry about my garden on the Garden Ramble part of my website. I do try to convey in my blogs ideas for what we can do in Sydney, and include pics of my garden from time to time! Deirdre

7/13  Lillian - 3951 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 23 April 2018

Ah- Justicia carnea! I note that Lloyd is subtropical. Here in much cooler South Gippsland I too had to suddenly expose it to sun, after a dense wattle was blown over. I held little hope for its survival, but recovery was brilliant, with better growth and more flowers. Alongside it,a species cousin (a gift- lost it"s name) has absolutely exploded. Now a shrub with big pointy bright green leaves and inconspicuous white flowers. Interesting but no great beauty. Good to know how well the Justicea carnea does in a wide variety of climate zones, and how ti does appear to be at its best in sun. Deirdre

8/13  Roger - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

Thank you for you latest blog, Deirdre. I recently re-discovered a pale pink abutilon growing in a thicket of fishbone fern I was clearing. I"d assumed it died years ago, I was wrong. Apart from overly long stems from trying to reach the light, it looked very healthy and the flowers are beautiful. They are certainly survivors! Glad it is doing OK. Deirdre

9/13  Helen - 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 23 April 2018

I agree Diedre, I do like long flowering plants. For me Abutilons and salvias (especially salvia leucantha) are a must but most of the others dont perform that well for me. Have tried & failed with zinnias, heliotrope, maybe my soil is too heavy & wet. Others that do very well here for a long time are japanese anemone, shasta daisy, dahlias, day lilies---not the new varieties. but the old fashioned double apricot one. I still enjoy the short lived spectacle though eg Liliums, autumn crocus. Interesting about those ones that don"t do well for you. Possibly a climate thing or as you suggest, due to the soil. Deirdre

10/13  Lloyd - 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Tuesday, 24 April 2018

I too have had an unlikely success. My dear old mum"s purple salvia - she called it sage - has shot forth from a small pot about three inches deep that I left on top of a large wooden planter. The metre long stems of salvia arched out towards the sun, blocking a path - just about spent now. I am guessing the roots are through the drainage hole in the small pot to enjoy the deeper soil beneath. About to bust it out - about the only way I am afraid - and find it a home in a bigger pot

11/13  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Saturday, 28 April 2018

Have thoroughly the two recent garden rambles to your beautiful garden with all its beauty not only enjoyed by people but birdsy, bees and butterflies!! You have revived my interest in the good old Abutilon and yesterday browsing the amazing CALYX for the first time was intrigued by several bearing red, yellow, orange flowers what appeared to be on the one shrub until I noticed the 3 entwined stems -great idea! Hope Ken & Maureen have some this weekend. Another grreat Blog - thank you..

12/13  Tricia - 3730 (Zone:11B - Arid) Wednesday, 02 May 2018

I put in a tiny cutting of Zauschneria cana, (Silver Select), commonly called variations of Californian Hummingbird/ Trumpet plant a large scarlet trumpet flowers. After growing well for 12 months but with no flowers I gave it a final inspection before pulling it out. Oh the beautiful flowers and its been flowering profusely since early Nov 2017, and just now setting seed. It doesn"t require much water, and lifts the garden colour delightfully. Tricia

13/13  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 April 2024

There are many plants which do perform for a long time, but among my favourites are the pentas, very reliable, Justicia brandegeeana, lime, and the dwarf brownish one, lantana yellow (not the weedy one), abutilons, especially in my experience a white and deep pink, and, of course, cane begonias, particularly the older varieties and the shrub-like begonia, acutifolia, which flowers all year. Thank you for your list, which includes many of my favourites. Deirdre

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