There’s a lot of confusion in the garden center each spring about which plants are perennials and which are annuals. A simple rule to remember is that the annuals have to be replanted annually each year. Perennials are the plants that come back perennially each season.
While it’s a little early to plant annuals in some areas, perennials of all kinds can be safely planted now for those who can’t wait to get growing!
Perennials, if planted properly in a desirable location, will live several years to a lifetime, depending on the variety. Many people have perennials like phlox or candytuft still growing strong that their grandmothers may have planted decades ago. Although some varieties like bleeding hearts are sometimes mistaken for a shrub, they differ from a shrub because the plant material will die back to the ground at the end of the growing season and then will re-grow from the ground at the start of the next season.
If you take some time to prepare before you begin planting, perennials can be fairly easy to grow and are especially popular because they don’t have to replanted each year. This makes them attractive for many busy homeowners. One of the secrets to a great looking perennial garden is to know the bloom time of each plant and plan accordingly. Not all perennials bloom at the same time, nor does each one bloom continuously throughout the summer like annuals do. Each variety has its own bloom times and knowing this is key to having a perennial garden full of color throughout the summer, so begin with a plan. Select your plants not only by when they bloom, but also by how they look, by color, by height, etc.
Prepare the soil first. Perennial beds are long-lived so the soil should be deep, well drained, and preferably ph balanced. A soil test can be done by the county extension office or you can purchase do it yourself kits. If the soil is too alkaline, iron sulfate should be used. Improve the soil by adding amendments such as compost, peat moss, or other organic material like Back to Earth acidified cotton boll compost. Dig the bed approximately one foot deep and amend with 2-4 inches of compost. Once the soil preparation has been completed, then it’s time for the fun part- the selection and purchase of your plants.
Purchase plants which can be established in one season. Although it’s tempting to buy small, immature plants because they are generally less expensive, in our sometimes harsh climate, you will often find that you may be more successful with a slightly larger plant will establish itself more quickly. Space your plant material according to the suggested spacing on the labels, but be sure to give them room to grow and fill in the bed. Position each plant for optimum sun or shade according to the recommendations for that particular variety.
Fertilizer is a must for these plants and should be added at the time of planting and several times a year after the bed has been established. Use a fertilizer recommended for perennials or a balanced all purpose fertilizer and follow the label directions.
Watering is extremely important until the perennials are established. Water them regularly during the warm season which means deeply about once a week and possibly more often if it has been very hot or dry in your yard. During the winter months, follow a winter watering schedule of a good drink about once a month, unless they are under snow cover. An easy way to remember is to water on each holiday between Halloween and Easter and this is especially important if we have a dry winter. Soaker hose or drip irrigation systems work well in perennial beds. Water early in the morning so that the water will dry off of the leaves during the day in order to prevent mildew and damping-off problems.
Mulch with a 2-inch layer in between the perennials in order to retain moisture from watering and also to assist in keeping the weeds at bay. Control insects and disease problems as soon as they appear in order to prevent them spreading to other areas of the garden or into other beds.
Clean up is easy and can be done either in the spring or fall. I generally do mine in the spring when the first new growth begins to appear because I think the extra leaf cover helps the plant to survive our sometimes long and cold winters here. While the dry foliage can serve as cover for birds during the winter months, a large amount of it at ground level may also harbor undesirable rodents and other debris that may have blown in with the winter winds, so be sure to keep an eye peeled for these over the winter months.
Popular perennials in our area include iris, candytuft, poppies, violas, coreopsis, daylilies, and our state flower, columbine, but there are many, many more. The combinations are endless and can be strikingly spectacular if planted in a well planned space.
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at email@example.com.