For bright, all-season bloom, petunias are hard to beat. They are annuals, meaning that they flower all summer and then die -- unlike perennials, which only bloom for a few weeks but live year to year. The trumpet-shaped flowers are often pink and purple, but there are varieties in yellow, apricot, red, white and candy-striped. You want to plant them in full sun and in well-drained soil. To supply nutrients for constant flowering, dig a slow-release fertilizer made to last three to four months into the soil when you plant. Water regularly and more when it's hot. If you have them in pots, water even more frequently and sprinkle another dose of fertilizer on the potting mix in late July. Deadhead by pulling off spent blooms.
These Asian perennials have spikes of flowers (white or lilac, early to late summer, depending on the variety), but gardeners value them mainly for their mounds of foliage -- rosettes of broad or narrow, smooth or crinkled leaves that range from 8 inches to 5 feet across in many widths, textures and colors of green, sometimes streaked with white. Plant them in a spot with afternoon shade. Chartreuse or white-streaked kinds need more sun; deeper greens tolerate more shade. Keep blue-green varieties out of direct sun to preserve the color. Spread mulch over the root and water once a week for the first year. In containers, mix slow-release fertilizer into the potting mix, water regularly and protect the roots from the winter freezing. A note: If you have deer in the neighborhood, don't plant hostas. As for slugs, they will chew holes in the leaves and even though it's a cosmetic problem, it will drive most gardeners crazy.
Originally from Asia, daylilies have been bred into tens of thousands of varieties with summer flowers ranging from near-white yellows through oranges and reds to deep purples. Each flower only lasts a day, but there are several on each stalk. Look for plants labeled "reblooming," which means they will flower again after the big burst in July. For smaller spaces, look for compact reblooming cultivars such as lemon-yellow 'Many Happy Returns' or 'Stella d'Oro'. Plant them in an area with full sun and in compost-rich soil that is well-drained but reasonably moist. Water weekly the first year. For more blooms, deadhead (remove spent blooms before they form seed pods). For daylilies, that means clipping off the whole flower stalk a couple of inches above the ground once all its buds have bloomed. A note: Make sure you set the plant in the garden at the same level as it was in the pot.
This plant earned its survival skills the hard way -- it's a native plant of rugged climates such as Afghanistan or the rocky Himalayas. Russian Sage looks like a periwinkle blue cloud when it blooms in late summer. This shrubby perennial, which can span up to 4 feet, tolerates our alkaline soils and handles dry sites, which is why it's a workhorse of supermarket parking lots. Plant these in full sun and well-drained soil. Break up clay soil by mixing in some sand as well as plenty of of compost. Water once a week for the first year. In the early spring, prune back old, dry growth to 6 inches. A note: It can't tolerate soil that stays wet.
These rugged perennials were part of the prairie landscape of the Midwest, which makes them hardy, drought-tolerant and disease-resistant. The 'cone' is the protruding center of the daisy-like mid- and late-summer flowers; in fall and winter, the seeds in the cone feed the birds. The purple coneflower, which has lavender flowers with orange centers, is the garden favorite. Plant these in full sun and well-drained soil. Dig in plenty of compost when you plant and water weekly for the first year. A note: It can't tolerate soil that stays wet.