The Art of Patience: Celebrating Late-Blooming Plants

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Spring is here, and many of us eagerly await blooming flowers and budding leaves. However, if you’re a plant enthusiast, you may have noticed that not all plants wake up from their winter slumber simultaneously. Some plants seem to be hitting the snooze button well into the spring season. These late bloomers are not lazy or defective plants but rather species that have evolved to take their time to emerge from dormancy. They may even have some tricks up their sleeves (or roots) to survive the unpredictable weather accompanying the transition from winter to spring.

Not to fear, these perennials and shrubs need just a little more time to wake up! In this blog, we discuss exactly what dormancy means and provide a list of plants that require more patience before they break dormancy. 

What does it mean when a plant goes dormant?

First things first: what does dormancy mean in gardening? Think of it as a “reset” button. Dormancy is a stage in the plant life cycle when it enters a prolonged period of rest. Perennials and shrubs enter this sleep during unfavorable or harsh environmental conditions (like winter) to conserve energy so they can fully awaken again when favorable growth conditions arrive. Depending on your climate and growing conditions, plants will “break” dormancy when ideal temperatures, humidity, and sunlight levels begin to align consistently.

When a plant emerges from its slumber, you’ll often see new buds begin to grow along previously bare stems or see perennials start to pop out of the soil. However, unseasonably warm temperatures can cause a plant to break dormancy prematurely. Keeping your ground covered in mulch is wise to decrease the effect of dramatic weather patterns. Plants don’t die when they enter this state, even if they may appear that way; instead, they “hibernate”, living on reserves compiled during their peak seasons of growth. Patience is key, so don’t worry if plants look a little worse for wear before their peak season!

Plants that break dormancy late

Hello Hello Milkweed flower.

Asclepias (Milkweed)

Breaks dormancy: mid to late spring

This native perennial reliably returns year after year, though it may take its time! Your patience will be rewarded: pollinators love their nectar and pollen-rich blooms from June through August.

Pugster Pink Butterfly bush flower.

Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)

Breaks dormancy: late spring

As one of the last shrubs to break dormancy, butterfly bushes can really test your patience. Cold-climate gardeners may even wait until June to see new growth. Panicles of brightly-colored flowers are well worth the wait, and pollinators agree.

Baptisia (False Indigo)

Breaks dormancy: mid spring

We don’t blame you for being eager for false indigo to return – their blue or multicolor blooms are irresistible! Wait until late March or early April for it to start growing again, then enjoy the flowers about a month later.

Whimsical blue flowers from Hardy Plumbago

Certostigma (Plumbago)

Breaks dormancy: mid to late spring

This plant provides whimsical interest in cooler months, with rich blue flowers in early fall followed by maroon foliage. Hardy plumbago is tough as nails, so don’t fret at the late dormancy; they’ll be back!

Beyond Midnight purple flowers.

Caryopteris (Bluebeard)

Breaks dormancy: late spring

You may be used to shrubs emerging come spring, but some like it hot; during the summertime, that is! Carypoteris, or Bluebeard, develops leaves in late spring and bursts with dark blue, purple, or pink flowers in late August.

Fern

Breaks dormancy: late spring

Ferns make for an elegant and classic addition to any shade garden, with new fronds emerging in late spring. Luckily these semi-evergreen plants still look great before they break dormancy, so you’ll have stunning foliage year-round.

bright red summerific hibiscus

Perennial Hibiscus

Breaks dormancy: late spring to early summer

Hibiscus are historically one of the last perennials to break dormancy, including the Summerific Series. They break dormancy late and take a few weeks or months to grow before reaching their season of interest mid-late summer.

Hydrangea Incrediball Blush flowers.

Hydrangea

Breaks dormancy: mid spring

We know waiting for massive mophead and lacecap flowers from hydrangeas can be hard, but patience is key! Some types, like bigleaf and mountain hydrangeas, may produce large buds first while panicle and smooth hydrangeas are just behind. 

Ornamental Grasses

Breaks dormancy: late spring to early summer

Ornamental grasses, especially warm-season grasses, tend to hit the snooze button just long enough to make you worry. It’s one of our most frequently asked-about plants! Don’t worry; these reliable perennials will emerge as the weather heats up.

Safari Adventure Eucomis bloom.

Pineapple Lily

Breaks dormancy: early to  mid summer

While these perennials may be easy to grow, they require a lot patience! Pineapple lily will break dormancy in summer. But their unique habit and purple star-shaped flowers are well worth the wait once they begin to bloom.

Purple flower spikes from Russian Sage

Perovskia (Russian Sage)

Breaks dormancy: mid spring

This late-summer blooming perennial features fragrant lavender-blue blooms. Because Perovskia thrives in warm temperatures, it emerges a little later in spring than other drought-tolerant plants.

Weigela

Breaks dormancy: mid to late spring

Once the leaves emerge on weigela in mid-spring, you won’t have to wait much longer to enjoy the flowers. This early summer bloomer bursts into bloom in late May or early June, and some cultivars continue to rebloom into fall. 

Written by: Lindsey Griffith, click here to read bio.

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