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Plan Flowerbeds for a Summer of Color

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Make this the year you make your flowerbeds the star of the neighborhood by planning for color all season long.

Suzanne Feather, master gardener with Monroe County Cooperative Extension, said that homeowners should adopt the Extension expression “right plant, right place.”

“Before your run out to the garden center, observe your sun and shade,” she said. “Have your soil tested so you can know if you need amendment. We recommend samples from various parts of the yard.”

Extension offices will test the soil pH and nutrients for $10 a sample. This can help save money by using the correct amendments only as needed and prevent the mistake of planting the wrong plant in the wrong place.

Selecting plants relies upon more that the soil. Most plants prefer full sun, partial sun or full shade.

“The care tag itself gives you the placement,” said Laura Vendel, co-owner of Welch’s Greenhouses in Webster. “It tells the height of the plant, spacing and when it will bloom. Get a garden book to read about the tricks of gardening and pruning so you know how to take care of it before you buy.”

The height and spacing of plants are important because you don’t want plant something that will become tall or bushy next to a smaller, shorter plant. Competition for light and water is one way to complicate flower gardening.

Vendel advised planting shorter plants in the front, middle height plants in the middle and taller plants in the back.

She advises starting with flowering shrubs and then filling in with perennial plants and then annuals.

“Mix perennials with annuals so you have continual blooming from the annuals and with the perennials, you won’t have to purchase every year,” Vendel said. “It’s a little more affordable and less work.”

Preparing the area with a weed mat can help suppress weeds, both improving the appearance of the flowerbed and minimizing competition with weeds. Vendel advised using three inches of hardwood mulch — it breaks down more slowly than other kinds — on top of the mat to further suppress weeds, augment the appearance and maintain moisture in the flowerbed.

Samantha Mills, business partner at Stem in Rochester, said that to save money, corrugated cardboard or newspaper may be used as a weed barrier under mulch.

“You don’t have to dig through weed fabric the next year,” she said. “But don’t use shiny magazine paper.”

She likes to “bulb stack” by layering later bulbs like tulips deeper in the soil, followed by daffodils and then early bulbs like crocus to keep the spring color going.

“Planting fast-creeping annual is a good way to help with weed suppression,” Mills added. “Petunias, snapdragons, foamy bells, snow-in-summer, candy tuft and decorative grasses are a good way to do that.”

It’s easy to see flowers in a catalog or online that look amazing and try to replicate the look. However, they may not be plants well-suited to the local climate.

“Go to the garden center and see what’s blooming, said Brenda Sunseri, lead designer at Birchcrest Tree & Landscape in Rochester. “Don’t just focus on flowers but look for colorful foliage, things with winter interest, like plants and trees with persistent fruit like colorful berries. Holly would be an example, as are some crabapples. There are lots of plants that have colorful things that aren’t flowers.”

She also likes to include elements that attract colorful wildlife, such as a birdbath, birdfeeder, hummingbird feeder and plants that appeal birds and pollinators.

Butterfly bush draws butterflies and trumpet honeysuckle or any red flowers attract hummingbirds.

Sometimes, Sunseri plans an entire garden with a variety of flowers around a single color, such as white, which many people find soothing.

“Window boxes can hold your flowers and can be colorful,” Sunseri said. “Don’t be afraid to be bold. Not everything can be a focal point.”

Full sun to partial sun

Petunia (Proven Winner variety)

Petunia (Wave variety), Geraniums







Straw Flower




Shade loving plants

Torenia (wishbone flower)


Browallia: “They’re amazing; I put one in a big flowerpot on the porch in the shade, and it’s gorgeous,” Schuetz said.




Wax begonia


Nonstop begonia

Early perennial flowers




Candy tuft



Midseason flowers include:

Shasta daisies



Bee balm

Russian sage


Late season perennials:

Black-eyed Susan





Some of the suggestions above were made by Gloria Schuetz, gardener at Bauman’s Farm Market in Webster and Dennis Keady, general manager at Garden Factory Inc. in Rochester.