Perennials are any plants which live for more than two seasons and produce flowers which die back to the ground each fall. They’re at the heart of most flower gardens and offer wide ranging benefits to the landscape gardener. Their flowers are treasured for their ability to bloom, spread and multiply year after year. Perennials also noted for their form, texture, vibrant color and their ability to attract birds and other wildlife to the garden. Perennials can stand on their own in the landscape but can be complimented by a few well placed annual flowers. While perennials are easy to grow, there are a few basic maintenance guidelines to follow which will help your garden flourish.
In the spring, remove any debris which has collected over the winter. After that, cut back to the ground any flowers which were left standing the previous fall. When cleaning out the garden tread and rake lightly, you don’t want to disturb any new shoots. Once the garden is cleaned out, look around the perennial bed to see if there are any empty spaces. If there are, you may want to add a few new flowers. Ideally, the perennial bed should provide flowers from spring through the fall so if the garden in September seems a bit sparse add late season bloomers such as autumn sedum joy, chrysanthemums or asters. Another way to add color in the garden is to plant annual flowers in the spring. Though they last only one year, annuals flower all season long.
Fertilizing your flowers with a general slow release garden fertilizer and adding lime to the garden early in the season will get the perennials off to a healthy start and feed them throughout the entire season. Each spring spread compost throughout the flower garden to improve soil consistency.
In the summer the main task is deadheading, the process of clipping off spent blooms. This encourages some new blooms in perennials and will keep the garden looking fresh all season. With annuals deadheading will encourage continuous flowers all season. Cultivating the garden soil is a job which serves two purposes. Cultivating keeps weeds from taking hold in the garden and allows water and nutrients to reach the plant’s deepest roots.
Towards mid-summer the taller plants may begin to lean or fall as they become top heavy. This often occurs most noticeably after a rain shower. Staking the plants is important and keeps them from falling into one another thus reducing the chances of mold and disease.
Continuing with the above tasks is important though the fall months as well. Late in the season, however, perennials will begin fade and eventually their foliage dies back to the ground. The roots are still alive but the above ground part of the plant is done for the season. Cutting back the plants that have gone by is generally done for aesthetic reasons. It can be done in the spring but I recommend this task for the fall, there are alot of other things to do in the spring.
Dividing perennials is the best way to increase your plant stock. A few years after you’ve planted a perennial you’ll probably notice that it begins outgrowing its allotted spot. Dividing large perennials into smaller plants will solve the problem of over crowding in the garden while giving you new plants to add to other gardens. In the fall when the plants are beginning to die back prepare new planting areas somewhere on your property. If you don’t have space for any new plants, give some to your friends. Simply dig the perennial out of the ground making sure to preserve as much of the root system as possible. Take a spade or a garden edger and chop or divide the perennial in half. Remove any foliage which may have been severed. Replace the perennial back in the ground and back fill with a mix of compost and existing soil. You’ll need some extra soil to fill in properly. Some of the easiest perennials to divide are daylilies, hosta, iris and sedum.
Perennials are adaptable to a variety of landscape conditions. Most can survive a few hours of shade each day but there are those which will require full sun and those which will thrive in the shade. Study the conditions of your own garden and have a plan or list in hand before you head out to the greenhouse. Once planted, the perennials you choose will provide years of gardening enjoyment!
- Early Flowers – Perennials: iris, poppy, aneome, primrose, lily of the valley, coral bell, Solomon’s seal, leopard’s bane, foam flower, lungwort, globe flower, epimedium, bleeding heart, speedwell
- Mid Season Flowers – Perennials: daisy, dianthus, hardy geranium, saliva, campanula, delphinium, coreopsis, daylily, hollyhock, yarrow, lady’s mantle, phlox, bee balm, catmint, goat’s beard, astilbe
- Late Season Flowers – Perennials: aster, black eyed Susan, chrysanthemums, michaelmas daisy, lilyturf, monkshood, cardinal flower, sedum “autumn joy”, goldenrod, hosta, globe thistle