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Larry Sagers
The popular gallardia plants are at their most colorful in June.

LAYTON — If you wanted to start a greenhouse business and were trying to think of just the right name, you might want to come up with one like Preston and Melisa Cox chose when they started their wholesale nursery in Layton in 1992.

Perennial Favorites, located on what was Melisa's grandparents' farm, is a dream come true — albeit one with a lot of hard work. Their business has grown into a major wholesale grower with a plethora of exciting plants. As the name implies, perennials are their mainstay, but they also grow many annuals.

"We started out in 1992 with two beds each — 10 feet wide and 100 feet long, Preston Cox said. "We filled them with perennials growing in one-gallon cans and thought we would grow them to sell the next year. Working with another grower we sold most of our stock that year.

"We started out with 35 varieties with the first 7,000 pots. Each year we added more, and now between our 4-inch pots, our natives and grasses and our gallons, we will approach 1,200 varieties."

Growing that many plants has to make you an expert, so I asked him to share recommendation on how to grow perennials successfully.

"If you are going to do perennial gardening, you have to be aware of what soil you have and what kind of watering system you have. The biggest problem, as I see it, is if you have the same system for watering turf and for watering annuals, you will usually damage the perennials.

"In my opinion, if you can isolate the beds, the perennials will last longer. They do not grow as tall with weak stems and they do not get as many disease problems," he said.

Spacing plants is also important. Look at the height and spread as you plant them. Give the plants enough room to grow. Each plant needs enough sunlight and enough space for the root system. Overcrowding reduces the beauty and the health of the plant.

He went on to name some of his perennial favorites. These are strong performers with a tried-and-true track record for growing well and blooming beautifully in our gardens in northern Utah.

"For the early spring gardens I like the rock cresses. The arabis and aubretia are beautiful, as are some of the early veronicas. Georgia Blue has a very distinct color of blue. These are followed by the alyssum and the aurinias or the Baskets of Gold. Another great group are the armeria, also known as sea pink or thrift. Also use the Phlox subulata, or creeping phlox, to add color.

"Midspring color is provided by the aquilegia, or the columbine, with many different colors. Another great plant is dicentra, or bleeding heart, and also look for arenaria, or white sandwort.

"For the late spring, there are lots of choices. The pinks, or dianthus, start to come on, and there are many new ones. Peonies and iris are always a staple in Utah gardens and grow very well.

"Late May to early June is another great season. Again some of the dianthus are beautiful this time of year. With the great breeding work that has gone into this flower, there are now some kinds that bloom from late April to July," he said.

"One of the prettiest times is the month of June," Cox said. "There is a huge range of perennials that come into bloom during this month. Look for the several varieties of leucanthemum, or Shasta daisies, in several different heights and bloom sizes.

"Other dependable flowers are the gallardias and the coreopsis that are coloring up nicely in June." He also recommended lupines and Asiatic lilies that continue on through July.

"This season is also a great time to enjoy the Oriental poppies and the polemonium, or Jacob's ladder. Also look for nepeta, or cat mint, and also the liatrus," he said.

"If your garden is designed properly, it will evolve throughout the season from March to October," he said. With the plants he and his family are growing, they are truly making Utah a more beautiful place to live.

Perennial favorites

Early spring:

Arabis and aubretia

early veronicas

alyssum

Aurinias (Baskets of Gold)

Armeria (sea pink or thrift)

Midspring:

Aquilegia (columbine)

Dicentra (bleeding heart)

Arenaria (white sandwort)

Late spring:

Dianthus (pinks)

Peonies

Iris

Summer:

dianthus

Leucanthemum (Shasta daisies)

Gallardias

Coreopsis

lupines

Asiatic lilies

Oriental poppies

Polemonium (Jacob's ladder)

Nepeta (cat mint)


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