Ever felt frustrated by a ‘blah’ period in your garden, when it seems like nothing’s blooming? Colleen from Milton, MA asked for suggestions to improve that very situation. She also mentioned that she doesn’t want to spend a lot of time or money doing so.

Colleen, I feel your pain!

There are a number of ways to approach a lackluster time in the garden. However, I’m going to focus the discussion on easy-to-implement, low-maintenance, and positive eco-impact.

To add color when it’s needed, you might think the obvious thing to do is visit the garden center and pick out something that’s in bloom. But not so fast!

Remember, you also want to minimize the time and money spent. As I’ve learned before to my own detriment, impulse purchases can cause more problems than they solve. To find a holistic solution, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Think perennial. Annuals (plants that live out their entire life cycle in one growing season) can give you season-long color. However, it comes at a price: You have to replace them every year, which involves both time and money.
  • Match plant to site. Planting something that’s best-suited to a different environment than your site offers means you’re either going to have to pamper it (more time and money) or possibly replace it (also more time and money). To keep it low-maintenance, you also want to avoid planting a vigorous spreader next to less strongly-growing plants. More on what goes into making a wise plant choice here.
  • Consider natives. You still need to match plant to site. But as long as you do that, a native will fill in the bloom gap while being deliciously easy-care and supporting local wildlife (including pollinators, who really do need our help).


Here are a couple of examples from my own garden.

Early June is a slow time in my front border, pictured above and below. Except for the clematis, a hybrid called ‘Niobe’, everything pictured above is native to my ecoregion. The natives really come into their own later in the season, when the herbaceous perennials put on a spectacular show. But meanwhile . . .

The clematis is growing on a black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) bush and acts to fill the gap until the native perennials start to chime in with flowers. (I do want to note, however, that in and out of bloom, the natives are productive as insect food, which in turn feeds creatures higher up on the food chain.)

Clematis like their feet in the shade and their faces in the sun and a situation like the one pictured gives them that. The roots are shaded by the bush and perennials. Meanwhile, it’s able to vine up and around the black haw bush and bask in the sunlight. The situation works for the bush because the clematis vine is “light” enough not to overwhelm its host.

In my case, the clematis (top photo) and Siberian iris (pictured below) are both vestiges of my cottage gardening period.

They bloom at a time when not that much else is flowering in my garden and they’re well-behaved, not invasive. On the basis that the majority of plants in the garden are native to my ecoregion, I’ve chosen to let them remain, at least for the time being.

If I was starting over from scratch, I’d look for natives that could perform in the design in the same way as the exotics pictured.

In Conclusion

I hope that helps you get started, Colleen! If you want some recommendations tailored specifically to your garden, send me more information about the site (sun exposure, soil type, what you already have growing, etc.) and when your bloom gap is occurring and I’ll gladly help in any way I can.

Now, no discussion about stretching your gardening dollar would be complete without at least mentioning the possibility of starting from seed. But are there any advantages beyond cost savings? Watch for that in a future post.

But meanwhile, before saying “‘Bye for now,” I really want to hear from you!

If you feel like sharing:

Do you have any bloom gaps in your garden? If so, when do they occur?