A garden is a wonderful thing to have.
But it can be hard work planting new plants every growing season.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was magic where plants grew by themselves? Every spring you would wake up to plants popping out from the ground.
You don’t need magic for that because perennial plants can do just that. Plant their seeds once and you could have a recurring garden for years to come.
What are perennial plants?
Perennials are a class of plants that live for more than two years. Keep in mind that there are two types of perennials, including woody and herbaceous.
These classifications help people differentiate between the trees, bushes, and vines that sustain life all year-long and the perennials that die to the ground at the end of each growing season.
Perennials that die above the surface of the earth still maintain a dynamic living root system below the surface. At the start of each growing season, fresh shoots and leaves emerge from these dormant foundations.
With each new growth period, perennials expand and flourish. As such, it typically only takes a season or two before a once-small perennial plant can completely fill in a garden.
Perennials are easy to care for and dependable. They come in a variety of colors and textures. Some of them can live for years to come.
You can combine perennials, annuals, and other plants to create a diverse garden. Perennials like peonies and hostas can be combined with annuals like zinnias and sunflowers.
The annuals will only live for one season but you can plant the seeds they produce in the next spring.
Perennials are low-maintenance plants which help fill up the garden. You can then spend a lot less time maintaining them.
When is the best time to plant perennials?
Spring and fall are the best seasons to plant perennials. You can start the plants from seeds or transplant seedlings.
When making the transplant, wait for a moist, overcast day. You’ll be surprised how easily roots die out and perish when exposed to harsh temperatures and sunlight.
Before settling on specific plants, consult the USDA Zone Map. This dynamic agricultural guide will help you to identify what type of plants can adapt and flourish in your region. The current USDA map boasts 11 unique planting zones within the United States.
You should consider whether you have a sunny or shady garden. Choose plants that will flourish in your unique conditions.
Consider purchasing perennials that bloom at different parts of the year. In doing so, you’ll get unique colors and textures throughout the growing season.
What are some creative ways to create a perennial garden?
Remember that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all garden. With the right tools and know-how, you can curate a space however you like.
Perennials are a great option for yard borders. They work great to soften the edges around your foundation. They also help add character to your monotonous landscaping elements.
Keep in mind that the plants you choose will determine the uniformity of your borders. Hosta, false indigo, astilbe, bleeding heart, and columbine are just a few of well-behaved perennials plants.
These plants lay their roots without spreading, making it easy to keep a fairly uniform yet lush border.
Don’t be afraid to add a touch of less-restrained plant life around walkways and patios. You can use bee balm, purple coneflowers, lupines, and poppies to add a touch of color and warmth to your outdoor seating area and brick pathway.
You will learn to embrace the uneven borders. And your self-sowing flowers will nourish a few generations of bees.
With island beds, you can encircle some of your woody perennials and rock formations with free-flowing perennial carpets.
Find small spaces that can be used to house a group of plants. You can stagger perennials of different heights to create a clear vantage point at all angles.
If the land you have tends to be rocky, you can consider having a rock garden.
Bold, cascading perennials, such as rock cress and sedum, can transform gray piles of sediment into an animated rainbow.
The best part about rock gardens is that they don’t need any attention. Since few plants can take off without soil and space, weeds are rarely an issue.
It can be upsetting when you have lots of trees that shade the ground and prevent growing sun-loving plants. But there are a lot of perennials that are shade-loving.
Toad lily, spiderwort, and monkshood can make a flowering forest floor possible. While these perennials have names that belong in a witch’s spell book, their gentle leaves create a stunning earthen carpet.
How can you arrange perennial plants?
You don’t need to worry about the poor arrangement of perennial plants in your garden. There are just a few factors to consider for creating a good looking arrangement.
Consider the height of your plants. Tall plants should always go in the center or back of an arrangement.
Plants need to be staggered from big to small in order to create an optimal viewing point. Keep in mind that a plant’s height may vary depending on growing conditions.
Everything from droughts to seasonal changes can alter the height of a mature plant. If your garden yields unexpected results, feel free to remove and/or transplant a perennial.
While these types of plants are low-maintenance, that doesn’t mean you have to ignore them completely.
Perennials also have an expected width. Keep in mind that the width of a particular perennial may vary depending on growing conditions.
Some plants are more aggressive spreaders than others. Black-eyed Susan, daylily, and sedum are all plants that will spread.
While some plants creep along the surface of the earth, others simply create ever-expanding patches. If you’re looking to quickly fill a large space, these perennials are an excellent option.
Spacing is yet another pivotal part of planting perennials. Without proper perimeters, small plants can be overrun by more aggressive alternative.
Plants that are too close can become malnourished and/or ridden with disease. I recommend placing your plants 6 to 24 inches from one another.
Taller plant varieties should be farther apart than short ones. Keep in mind that most perennials will spread in a few years. When your perennials have reached a desirable limit, they should be divided.
As a good rule of thumb, you should have a variety of perennials together. Some plants get along with others better. Shasta daisy, taro, and lavender are all harmonious neighbors.
You’ll also want to consider how plants look together. You should consider pairing long-lived plants with their short-lived cousins.
Divided perennials are a great thing to share and trade with your fellow gardeners. When you divide a perennial, you are helping the plant too.
How to choose perennial plants for your garden?
While it can be tempting to just meander into a nursery and select the prettiest plant offerings, this is not the way to grow a striking garden.
Winter is a great time to scout out newbie perennials and start mapping the layout of your gardens. Read the section below for pointers on choosing the perfect perennials.
Before planning your garden, take a close look at your yard.
Observe the texture of your soil. Is it clay-like, sandy, stony, or moist? Is your land hilly or flat? Are your beds in the shade or full sun? These conditions will help you to select plants with the highest likelihood of surviving.
Speak with plant specialists, consult seed catalogs, and read labels. Thorough research will ensure that you select the perfect plants for your location.
Don’t fret if you have a specific aesthetic preference. If you look hard enough, you’re bound to find a smart pick that fits your preferred plant description.
The USDA’s agricultural zone maps are a great tool for honing in on your local hardiness rating. The USDA utilizes up-to-date climate data to determine a plant’s likelihood of surviving is specific geographical areas.
Keep in mind that the USDA zones are characterized by the average temperatures in an area. If your yard is particularly warm, you may be able to consider planting some of the plants in the hardiness zone directly above your own.
Color is a great way to curate a personalized perennial garden. From cool blues to bright yellows, perennials come in every color of the rainbow.
Some gardeners prefer to go all out with a monochromatic scheme. For example, a solid-pink patch of perennial and annual flowers. Other gardens opt for a more diverse assortment of similar colors. For example, bachelor buttons, geranium Rozanne, and dwarf crested irises make for a cool blue and purple facade.
Think about what hues would compliment the color of your house or shutters. Of course, there’s no one way to go about picking flowers.
Keep in mind that some plants only bloom for a short period each year. Meanwhile, others stay green and lush all the way through winter.
When developing planting plans, aim to add at least one element that will serve as a year-round focal point.
The bloom time for plants varies dramatically from one species to another. There are plenty of perennials that bloom for weeks or even months at a time.
These plants are a great pick for gardeners looking for long-lasting, low-maintenance ground coverings. You can always pair these with small patches of short-lived yet equally splendid perennial blooms.
In addition to the length of a flower bloom, you need to consider the actual timing of a flower bloom. You can consider the idea of keeping a bloom log where you note the bloom window for your perennial flowers. This will help you discover gorgeous plant pairings that would fill the voids.
When developing your own perennial garden, don’t be afraid to opt for plants with staggered blooming windows. While waiting for late-September flowers takes some patience, there’s nothing like the colors of Russian sage or Japanese anemones.
Potted, Seeded, and Field-Grown
Most nurseries, plant sellers, and generous friends offer perennials in two varieties: potted and bare root plantings. For the most part, both of these plants need to be placed into the ground within a short period of being purchased.
Don’t be surprised if some of your perennials don’t bloom during the first year you plant them. Be patient and give them a second season before giving up hope.
Some gardeners even opt to keep their perennials in containers. Containers can help break up a landscape and even add a decorative element.
Containers can also be switched out with ease. They can be brought inside or placed in a greenhouse over the winter. For many gardeners, potted plants offer a unique opportunity to plant perennials that are outside the traditional range of their region’s hardiness zone.
Some plants are more vigorous than others. It’s important to understand how far a plant will spread before introducing it to your garden. Other plants are more particular about the quality of the soil they reside in.
If you have concerns about the physical strength and vitality of a particular plant, it may be a good idea to avoid it until you learn more advanced gardening skills. In general, you want to find plants that moderately increase in volume.
How to prepare the soil for perennial plants?
While the soil for annuals can be switched over each year, this isn’t the case for permanently rooted perennials.
As such, before you plant your perennial garden, it’s a wise idea to determine your soil type and make any necessary amendments.
Determine Your Soil Type
The soil in your garden can be sandy, clay, or loamy. This depends on the texture of the soil.
If the soil contains particles of different sizes from fine to grainy, you are in good luck. This is loamy soil that is rich in nutrients, drains well while retaining good moisture.
Sandy soil has particles of larger, grainy size. This makes the water drain out too fast from the large pores in the soil.
Clay soil has very small particles. There’s not much space between them which does not allow good drainage or air to circulate.
To find out the type of soil you have, form a ball of the soil in your hand. Then try to poke it. If it breaks apart, then you have loamy soil. If it falls apart quickly, you have sandy soil. And if it sticks together and does not fall apart easily, you have clay soil.
Determine the soil condition
You can find out the condition of your soil with the help of your local extension service.
For a small fee, they will run some tests on the soil samples you send them. This will help you find out the pH levels as well as the nutrients in the soil.
The tests will also give you the required amendments you need to do to get the soil in the best shape possible for your perennial garden.
Determine Your Drainage
To determine your soil type, dig a 12-inch hole and fill it with water. If the water drains within 1 to 4 hours, then your soil has solid drainage.
If it drains to slowly or rapidly, consider adding organic compost in order to amend the issue. A backyard compost pile is a great way to reduce your household waste while gaining rich organic compost.
Amend Your Soil
You can use the recommendations of the soil tests to amend your soil to the best shape possible. Amending your soil is a way to improve its chemical or physical properties.
You may need to add compost, manure, or fertilizer to improve the growth potential of your soil.
Organic compost is probably the best possible way to improve your soil over the long term. This rich, organic matter will add nutrients and beneficial organisms to the soil.
After a few months or years, you’ll have the best possible soil to grow any kind of plants. And you won’t need to use synthetic chemicals or fertilizers to do so.
You can make your own compost with the materials available around your house. This could include grass clippings, dried leaves, straw, hay, wood chips, twigs, and kitchen waste.
How to plant perennials?
If you’ve started seeds or bought transplants, you need to dig a hole that is wide and deep enough as the container.
Use one hand and keep the base of the plant between the thumb and fingers. Turn the container and tap at the bottom gently.
This should remove the plant along with the potting mix from the container. If it does not try tapping harder. Or you may need to cut up the container.
Once the plant is out of the container, place it in the hole and gently cover it with soil. Don’t put soil on the lower leaves but make sure to cover the crown at the base.
You can then water the soil near the plant base and mulch it. Make sure to leave a few inches space between the mulch and base of the plant.
The process is the same when you purchase bare-rooted plants. You need to dig a hole and create a mound of soil in the hole.
Make sure to water the roots well before planting them into the soil.
You can arrange the roots around the mound of soil. Then cover them up with soil. Make sure the hole is deep enough so the plant sits well into it. Only the base of the stem should be out of the soil.
How to maintain perennial plants?
If you’ve added compost to the soil and improved its organic structure, you might not need to add fertilizer.
If the soil is poor, you will need to amend with fertilizer. You may need to apply soluble organic fertilizer a couple of times for the perennial plants.
Perennial plants don’t need as much fertilizer as annuals. Too much could even cause disease, inhibit growth, and prevent hardening of the plants.
Do this in the spring only. I recommend using a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus and low in nitrogen. Another option is to add a layer of locally sourced compost or manure.
Perennial plants are quite hardy and can survive with less water. However, when you plant them the first time, you do need to provide enough water.
If the plants have been grown in a container, their roots need to adapt to the change in watering patterns. They might have been watered twice a day in the container to prevent drying out.
When planted in the soil, you’ll need to water then often in the beginning. Then you can taper the watering as the plant has adapted.
The idea to water your garden should be so it gets about 1 inch of water every week.
You can check whether the soil has dried out by sticking your finger in the soil to a depth of 1-2 inches.
When the soil is dry, you can water it deeply and less frequently so the soil gets moist. The plant roots will then grow deep into the soil searching for the water. This makes them grow stronger and resilient to lack of watering.
Mulching is taking care of the top of the soil while adding compost is taking care of the inner soil.
It has several benefits for your perennial garden. Mulching helps prevent weeds from growing in the garden. It does not allow light to reach the weed seeds.
It helps to regulate the soil temperature. This helps the plant roots avoid shock because the soil does not become very hot or very cold.
Mulching also helps the soil retain good moisture and prevents soil erosion. Organic mulch like bark, straw, wood chips, break down over time and adds rich, organic material to the soil.
Edging is a great way to add a finishing touch to your home and garden.
Edging tools can create sharp, clean edges around islands and other landscaping elements. Edging also helps you take control of your weeds.
Pinching, Deadheading, and Dividing
Pinching is the method of removing unwanted flowers in order to promote new growth. Chrysanthemums, salvia, and asters are just a few perennials that can benefit from this pruning technique.
Deadheading involves the removal of wilted blooms. This encourages new blooms and growth. Deadheading is ideal for plants that do not drop seeds after blooming.
Another unique perennials maintenance technique is staking. Staking is the process of using wood or metal stakes to support plants with otherwise weak stems.
Dividing plants is also a great way to promote new growth while preventing overcrowding. It’s best to divide your plants in early spring or late fall. When you do so, use a shovel to eradicate small balls of roots. Replant or share these root clusters.
How to protect perennials from pests and diseases
Checking for Pests
Perennials are generally resistant to pets. Still, slugs, snails, and animals can wreak havoc on young plants.
Take the time to gently lift and inspect the underside of your perennials’ leaves. Remove insects and take note of any issues.
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated pest management involves managing pests rather than eradicating them.
You can begin by identifying the type of pests that are affecting your perennial plants.
If you find that the pests are minimal and don’t affect your plants in a big way, you can let them be.
If there is a big infestation happening, you can find the best stage of the insect to take care of. If taking care of them in the larval stage or adult stage can reduce their population immensely, you can take the right action.
The best way is to use minimally invasive methods like hand-picking or pruning parts that are affected.
You can also use methods like spraying water or using the least toxic material like insecticidal soap.
If you do have to use a pesticide, prefer an organic one that is least toxic and won’t harm plants or other insects.
Check for Diseases
Inspect your perennial plants every day and check for diseases.
Leaf spots, cankers, rust, and mildew are just a few of the common diseases to look out for.
When issues like this occur, consult with plant experts to find organic pesticides and fungicides that will safely clear up the issue.
The diseases can occur due to bacteria, fungi, or viruses.
There may be ways to treat plants affected by bacteria or fungi like using fungicidal soap. However, there is no solution for viruses.
You need to get rid of the entire plant to prevent the spread of the disease due to viruses.
The timing is important when taking care of plants with diseases. The sooner you know about the type of disease, the faster you can act and prevent a full-blown problem in the garden.
Some diseases due to bacteria or fungi can be limited to certain parts of the plants. So if you prune those parts away, your plant can be saved.
Avoid using synthetic products to treat your plants against diseases as they could be harmful to the plants, insects, and animals.
How to care for perennials in winter?
If you live in a region that has regular winter snowfall, you’re probably wondering what to do to protect your perennials through the cold.
Use compost or peat moss as mulch to cover dormant roots. In some cases, you can also dig up and pot your plants.
With that said, most perennials do just fine lying dormant in the frozen earth.
You want to avoid cutting up the perennials in fall. They can help provide birds and insects with food and shelter during winter.
The insects may emerge out of their shelter in early spring. So let the perennial plants overwinter even if it’s a bit messy in the garden.
The only reason to prune back the perennials if the foliage has a disease and you want to clean them up before next season.
Time to grow your perennial plants
Perennial plants can give your garden the gift of resurrection.
Once you’ve planted perennials, new plants will sprout every growing season depending on the plant. You may have a plant that grows and gives color to your garden for a lifetime.
So take that first step to grow perennials. Find out what is the best type of garden you can create for your perennials.
Once you’ve planned your garden, the next step would be to choose the type of perennials you want to grow.
Good luck and I hope to see you enjoy the beauty of perennial plants in your garden.