Part 2. Displaying the Colors on Independence Day
By Mary Free, Certified Extension Master Gardener
It is never too early to prepare your shopping list for spring planting. After having read the first part of this series, perhaps you have decided to purchase some red, white, and blue flowering plants for a patriotic Independence Day garden. But alas, you failed to pay attention to bloom schedules and cannot remember which plants will produce the appropriate colors on that day.
You could wait until late June and visit a nursery to see what red, white, and blue annuals are available for planting, and add them to your pots or beds then. But if you want to grow plants that will last for more than one holiday, what do you choose? Well, no worries. For the past several years, we have visited some of the MGNV demonstration and other gardens on or around July 4 to discover what plants were actually coloring the landscape red, white, and blue and have listed and briefly described below those plants for your consideration.
- Achillea millefolium (yarrow): ☀ Red flowers rise above fern-like leaves on cultivars of this somewhat aggressive, 2–3-foot-tall perennial.
- Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower): ☀ 🌥 A few brilliant scarlet flowers on 2–4-foot-tall, terminal racemes, may be on display by July 4, but this hummingbird magnet is more reliably a mid-to-late summer bloomer.
- Lonicera sempervirens (trumpet honeysuckle): ☀ 🌥 Red, trumpet-like flowers attract hummingbirds to this semi-evergreen, blue-green foliaged, 6–12-foot vine. From August to March, its red berry-like fruit provides food for other birds. Do not confuse this plant with non-native honeysuckles, which are highly invasive.
- Monarda didyma (scarlet beebalm): ☀ 🌥 The showy red flowers favored by hummingbirds may be waning in some gardens by July 4, but the reddish seed heads and bracts of this 2–4-foot-tall perennial are still attractive.
- Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink): 🌥☁ Flowers first appear in June but can continue into August on this hummer-favored, 1–2-foot-tall perennial, which is native further south than Northern Virginia.
- Alcea rosea (hollyhock): ☀ Since this 6–8-foot-tall, cottage garden favorite readily self-seeds, it acts more like a perennial than a biennial.
- Hemerocallis cultivars (daylily): ☀ 🌥 Although each flower lasts just one day, there may be numerous flowers on each scape (stalk) of this easy-to-grow 1–3.5-foot-tall perennial. As of May 2018 there were nearly 89,000 cultivars registered with the American Daylily Society so you are sure to find a red, white, or bluish daylily that will bloom on July 4. Do not confuse these cultivars with Hemerocallis fulva (common daylily), which can be invasive.
- Kniphofia uvaria (red-hot poker): ☀ Hybrid cultivars produce red (fading to yellow) flowering spikes that bloom from the bottom up on this 3–4-foot-tall perennial.
- Lilium spp. (lily): ☀ 🌥 One of the most popular of these easy-to-grow perennial bulbs is the crimson red, 2.5–3-foot-tall Oriental lily ‘Stargazer.’ Lilies grow from bulbs, which should be planted in the fall.
- Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese cross): ☀ Clusters of scarlet flowers grow atop 2–4-foot stems attracting butterflies and hummers. Deadhead to encourage flowering but also to prevent seeds from sowing where they are not wanted.
- Papaver orientale (oriental poppy): ☀ You may be able to find a cultivar that blooms as late as July 4; otherwise plant one to bloom on Memorial Day. Once the showy flowers of this 2–3-foot-tall perennial are spent, though, the foliage dies completely away, so you will need late-developing plants to fill the space they leave empty.
- Rosa (roses): ☀You can count on shrub roses and hybrid teas to be in full flower in summer, but even with high maintenance, they may develop black spot during our humid summers or succumb to rose rosette disease. In 2000, Rosa ‘Radrazz’ Knock Out® set the standard for black spot resistance and prolific bloom and became the most popular rose in American gardens. Rosa ‘Noare’ (sold as Red Flower Carpet®) is a hardy, spreading, ground cover-type rose that won the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 2012. However, a new introduction in 2018, ruby red ‘Top Gun™’ claims superior disease resistance including to rose rosette disease. Hybrid tea rose ‘Mister Lincoln,’ grown in the Glencarlyn Library Community Garden, is arguably among experts, the best red rose of all. Do not purchase Rosa multiflora, which is highly invasive. A large variety of roses, many labelled, can be viewed at the Bon Air Memorial Rose Garden in Arlington, Virginia, created to honor local war veterans. Roses should be in full flower by Memorial Day. If you visit, then stop by to see the nearby demonstration Sunny and Quarry Shade Gardens.
- Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ (small leaf sage): ☀If you are lucky, some of these attractive little blossoms on this 2–3-foot-tall plant will be flowering on July 4. If not, then you will enjoy them in your garden when they do bloom later on.
- Achillea millefolium (yarrow): ☀ White flowers are found on the species (not readily available in nurseries) of this sometimes aggressive, mat-forming, 2–3-foot-tall, native perennial with attractive fern-like leaves.
- Actaea–formerly Cimicifuga–racemosa (common black cohosh): 🌥☁ This 4–6-foot-tall perennial produces white flowers in terminal racemes up to 2 feet long summer until frost.
- Cephalanthus occidentalis (buttonbush): ☀ 🌥☁ The half-inch diameter, ball-like fruits hang like ornaments on this attractive 6–12-foot-tall shrub once the fuzzy, white fragrant flowers are past early to late July.
- Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush): ☀ 🌥☁ This shrub’s fragrant flowers may not be in full bloom on July 4, but the 2–6-inch panicles of white buds bring sweet anticipation.
- Hydrangea arborescens (wild or smooth hydrangea): 🌥☁ This 3–6-foot-tall shrub produces large clusters of white flowers from May to June and then sporadically to September.
- Oxydendrum arboreum (sourwood): ☀🌥 Lily-of-the-vally-like flowers cover this 20–50-foot tree on Independence Day and in fall its foliage turns brilliant red to eggplant.
- Phlox paniculata (fall or garden phlox): ☀ 🌥 The showy flowers of the 1.5–6.5-foot-tall cultivars range in color from white to pink to red. The stunning, white cultivar ‘David’ has been shown to have high resistance to powdery mildew in humid climates.
- Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s-root): ☀ See notes under “BLUE.”
- Alcea rosea (hollyhock): ☀ See notes under “RED.”
- Hemerolcallis cultivars (daylily): ☀ 🌥 See notes under “RED.”
- Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea): ☀ 🌥 Native south of Virginia, these 6–8-foot-tall shrubs produce panicles of white flowers that mature to purple-pink. Its large oak-like leaves turn shades of orange, red, and eggplant in the fall.
- Lagerstroemia (crape myrtle): ☀ Mildew-resistant hybrids ‘Acoma’ (2–10 feet tall) and ‘Natchez’ (4–21 feet tall), developed by the U.S. National Arboretum, display their white flowers beginning in July. ‘JD900’ EARLY BIRD WHITE (5–8 feet tall) and ‘Pixie White’ (1–2 feet tall) start blooming earlier (May and June, respectively).
- Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’ (shasta daisy): ☀ These easy-to-grow 3–4-foot-tall flowers bloom from late June to September. Do not confuse them with Leucanthemum vulgare (ox-eye daisy), which is considered an invasive weed.
- Lilium spp. (lily): ☀ 🌥 In the fall, plant white Asiatic, Oriental, or Trumpet lily bulbs that will bloom early to mid-summer.
- Lysimachia clethroides (gooseneck loosestrife): ☀ 🌥 Graceful and attractive white flowers will be blooming on July 4, but this 2–3-foot-tall perennial can spread aggressively by rhizomes in ideal conditions. It may be controlled if planted in light shade and drier soil or against a barrier like a wall or building.
- Sedum album (white stonecrop): ☀ Blooming later than our native Sedum ternatum (wild stonecrop), the small, star-like flowers on this half-inch-tall ground cover will be attracting butterflies on July 4.
- Rosa (rose): ☀ See notes under “RED.”
- Agastache spp. (giant hyssop): ☀ 🌥 At the Glencarlyn Library Community Garden, 2–4-foot A. foeniculum (anise hyssop) produces pollinator-attracting, lavender flowers from June to September. The lavender-blue flowers of 2–3-foot-tall, hardy hybrid ‘Blue Fortune’ bloom reliably starting late June to early July at the demonstration Simpson Park Demonstration Garden in Alexandria, Virginia.
- Delphinium carolinianum (Carolina larkspur): ☀ 🌥 This 1–2-foot-tall, native perennial may require a bit of maintenance (staking, pruning, etc.) and its delicate, spurred flowers will be waning by Independence Day.
- Ruellia caroliniensis (Carolina wild-petunia):☀ 🌥 Small, funnel-shaped flowers dot the landscape for about two months, but each flower opens in the morning and by evening has fallen away. This 1–2-foot-tall native is the larval host for the common buckeye butterfly.
- Verbena hastata (blue or common vervain): ☀ 🌥 The blue to lavender flowers on this 1.5–5-foot-tall, candelabra-shaped native attract pollinators, and the leaves are host to the larvae of the common buckeye butterfly.
- Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s-root): ☀ From June to August, 9-inch spikes of pale blue or white, tube-like flowers branch off in candelabra-shaped form on this 4–7-foot-tall perennial, attracting pollinators and providing a distinctive vertical accent in the garden.
- Adenophora spp. (ladybells): ☀ 🌥 Do not confuse these perennials, which produce graceful, bell-shaped flowers, with the invasive Campanula rapunculoides (creeping bellflower).
- Echinops ritro (small globe thistle): ☀ Globular, thistle-like flowers appear atop 3–3.5-foot stems on this clumping perennial throughout the summer. For steel-blue, thistle-like flowers try 2–3-foot-tall Eryngium planum (sea holly).
- Hemerolcallis cultivars (daylily): ☀ 🌥 There is not a true blue daylily but some purples may have a bluish hue. See additional notes under “RED.”
- Hydrangea macrophylla: 🌥 ☁ Available as mopheads, like 4–6-foot-tall ‘Nikko Blue’ 🌥 or as lacecaps, like 3–6-foot-tall ‘Mariesii Perfecta’ (aka BLUE WAVE) 🌥. The best blue flower color of these shrubs occurs in acid soils (in alkaline soils flower color becomes pinker).
- Lithodora diffusa (lithodora): ☀ 🌥 Blue funnel-shaped flowers bloom May to August on this prostrate one-foot-tall plant often used in rock gardens or as a ground cover.
- Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage): ☀ The lacy, gray-silver foliage and graceful, upright habit of the 4-foot-tall cultivar ‘Filigran’ will attract pollinators from May until late summer and attract compliments well beyond that time.
- Platycodon grandiflorus (balloon flower): ☀ 🌥 Dead-heading the spent flowers of this 1–2.5-foot-tall, clump-forming perennial will prolong blooming.
- Salvia spp.: ☀ A variety of annuals and perennials attract butterflies and some hummers. The 1.5–2-foot-tall, clump-forming Salvia x sylvestris ‘Blauhügel’ (aka BLUE HILL) has the purest blue flowers. They bloom from May to June and repeat bloom until frost, if spent flower spikes are removed. S. azurea and S. guaranitica can grow up to 5 and 6 feet tall, respectively, and begin to bloom early in July.
- Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ (pincushion flower): ☀ The first lavender-blue flowers of this 1–1.5-foot-tall, clumping perennial first appear in April and will continue through every holiday until frost, attracting myriad pollinators. Thereafter, it will bloom sporadically during winter warm spells, so it could even produce a flower or two for President’s Day, temperatures cooperating.
If you decide to add some patriotic color to your garden shopping list, in addition to flowers, consider foliage, seed heads, and fruit that will add red, white, or blue accents to your garden (refer to Part 1. Displaying the Colors Year-Round.) Then remember to visit the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia website during this year’s Independence Day week when we’ll salute the red, white, and blue with flowering plant pictures from holidays past.
- Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia. 2015. “Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic.”https://mgnv.org/plants/trees/
- Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/plantfinder/plantfindersearch.aspx
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension. http://plants.ces.ncsu.edu
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2019. “The Plants Database.” http://plants.usda.gov
- Virginia Botanical Associates. 2019. “Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora.” http://www.vaplantatlas.org