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A Guide to Planting Perennials

Annuals, perennials, biennials…confusing for the beginner; but once you understand the terminology, it’s easy. A perennial is probably the gardener’s favorite type of plant. For now, let’s look at perennials and how to plant them.

Perennials survive for many years and may take several seasons to fully mature. Once mature, they will produce fruit or flowers and seeds. Your perennials only need to be planted once, dying in the winter and coming back in the spring. They almost become like family.

There are two types of perennials: herbaceous and woody. Herbaceous perennials like iris and phlox or daylilies and cone flowers die to the ground. Woody perennials like trees and shrubs survive intact from season to season, going dormant and shedding their foliage for the cold winter months. Evergreens, which keep their foliage, are an exception.

Consider first, when planting your perennial garden – where you want it and how you want it to look. Determine the blooming season—spring, summer or fall. Perennials can be planted all three seasons for continuous beauty. Your local landscaper can help with this planning; or, ask the local nursery where you purchase your plants.

Along with the season type, consider where the plants will be located in relationship to sun or shade. Most are sun lovers, needing about six hours of full sunlight each day. But there are varieties that like partial sun and some that prefer shade. The location should also take into account what the plant looks like at maturity. Larger and taller plants may overwhelm the little blooms of a more delicate plant or ground over. Also, consider your color palette along with blooming times when setting your plant locations. You want your garden to complement itself, not be in competition.

Prepare the soil well; good drainage is vital to prevent root rot. If drainage is a problem, plant in raised beds. They can be beautiful and sometimes easier to maintain. The best time, I believe, to prepare your flower bed is in the fall. That way it can settle. Composting will add needed nutrients. Your plants are going to be permanently residing here, so make them comfortable. Give the soil generous amounts of aged manure and peat. Commercial fertilizers can be used or a handful of wood ash and super-phosphate every three cubic feet or so of soil will be highly appreciated by your new plants.

Once you have made your trip to the nursery and have chosen the plants you desire (plants can be started indoors before last frost), lay them out in your garden area according to your plan. Decide if you want to make some changes. Imagine your plants mature and see how they will fit with each other. Will they make good neighbors over the years to come? If not, now is the time to make the changes; it isn’t easy for you or your plants to go through a transplant.

Looks good? Good. I like to start from the back and work forward or from the center of the garden and work out; you decide how you want to move through your garden.

  • When you are ready for planting, turn your bed about two feet deep.
  • Using a spade or trowel, dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the root ball of your plant and wide enough for growing room. Make sure the bottom of the hole is just as wide as the top, not narrow.
  • Add a little water at the bottom of the hole and mix it with the soil.
  • Hold the pot upside down and tap it to loosen the plant’s roots. Most nursery plants are root bound, so you need to disturb the root ball and force new and healthy root growth.
  • To do this, use a sharp knife and slice off the bottom half inch of roots and score the sides of the roots for bigger plants.
  • For small plants, break the roots with your fingers, but don’t loosen the soil around it, you just want to disturb the roots.
  • Place plant in hole and fill with soil around the roots, making sure that the plant is not higher or lower than it was in the container.
  • After planting, you may choose to spread mulch. If so, taper it down towards the plant stems. Too much soil or mulch around the stem of the plant can cause root rot.

Water your plants immediately and once a week or so for the first couple of weeks. Mother Nature may help you out with this in the spring. Summer planting may need more frequent watering, especially if you live in areas more prone to drought periods. If so, there are some great plants that just love that type of weather you could consider.

As I said before, perennials are probably the gardener’s favorites. They have fewer major problems than annuals and take less maintenance!

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