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Larry A. Sagers
Columbine flowers have unique spurs that attract hummingbirds.

Utah Gardeners have two seasons in their flower beds: spring and summer.

Right now, the spring flowers — daffodils, tulips and hyacinths — are winding down and are waiting for the next set of actors to take center stage. Since no one wants the stage to be empty, it is time to consider a few flowers that fill the gap.

"Out with the old and in with the new" means empty ground. Finding plants that look good and provide a show before the summer flowers fill in is critical to keeping flower beds attractive.

Most candidates are going to be perennials, although there are a few select biennials in the cast. There are even a couple of late-blooming bulbs that might make an appearance. Choose the cast carefully so they will give an award-winning performance.

There are many flowers that could be chosen, but these made the cut for the top 10 transition flowers.

Monkshood or Aconitum is a tall native perennial that thrives in our high mountain valleys. It grows three to four feet high with flower spikes of violet, lavender, pink, yellow or white. The individual blossoms resemble the hood of a medieval monk, giving the flowers its name.

Columbine is another native plant that grows well in our landscapes. The plants have unique flowers with swept-back spurs that are full of nectar, which attracts hummingbirds. There are many colors if you plant the hybrids, but as they reseed, they usually revert to light colors. Plant them in full sun or partial shade.

For another tried-and-true favorite, consider the Oriental poppy. This is a showy flower that is highly drought tolerant and grows well in full sun. While most gardeners are familiar with the common orange flowers, look for newer varieties with large, showy white, pink, coral or plum-colored blossoms.

The next flower has several stage names. It goes by valerian, Jupiter's beard or Centranthus. It tolerates drought and heat well and is covered with rose-pink or white flowers. The plants get 12 to 36 inches high and will rebloom if you cut them back.

Yellow Corydalis or Corydalis lutea is another flower that gives an outstanding performance if given some shade. It can start blooming as early as March and continues until the hot weather comes. It then slows down but resumes again in the fall. It forms a mound about 12 inches high. Other colors of corydalis are not as vigorous in our area.

Don't let the different dianthus species miss the casting call. They are commonly referred to as pinks. Some, such as Dianthus barbatus, only grow four to six inches tall and have white, pink or scarlet flowers.

Another imposter often takes credit from the true geranium or cranesbill. Pelargoniums are called geraniums but are native to South Africa. We have native geraniums (cranesbill) in our mountains, and plant breeders have added many new cultivars. Look for blue, purple, pink, white or red flowers on plants that grow six to 24 inches high.

The next flower answers to many names. Digitalis purpurea goes by fairy glove, fingerflower or purple foxglove. It is a biennial, so plant them in the fall with your pansies, not in the spring when they are in full bloom. They are toxic, so keep children away. The plants grow 24 to 60 inches high and come in purple-pink, lavender, white-apricot or rose colors.

Hollyhocks are old favorites. They are the tallest of our performers and grow 24 to 108 inches high. They have a great range of colors — from white to a dark maroon-black and almost everything in between, except blue.

Grow them in full sun and cut them back after they flower to promote a second bloom. There are many different cultivars that are both single and double. These include Majorette, Silver Puffs, Summer Carnival and Chater's Double Mixture.

Giant Allium or Allium giganteum is an ornamental onion that blooms after most of the other bulbs. It can grow up to 4 feet in height and does best in full sun. The showy flower and seed head put on a great performance and make excellent cut or dried flowers.

Make some notes now and decide where you need these colorful transition flowers. You are the director and the producer, so select actors that will perform well and give you a true, show-stopping performance.


Larry A. Sagers is the horticulture specialist, Utah State University Extension at Thanksgiving Point.