Perennial Flower Garden Guide

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When gardening with perennial plants, you will be assured of year after year flowering plants and the return of ornamental grasses. Unlike annuals, perennials do not die after a season, they can become dormant and some will last year after year without dormancy. In addition, certain perennial plants are deer resistant and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. A perennial is a garden fixture, which is a permanent plant in which you can plan and grow a garden around. Most perennials have a life span of more than two years, especially if maintained properly including trimming, good soil and plenty of water and sunlight depending upon the plant. The most popular perennials can range from hedges and small shrubs to large woody plants with a well-established root system.

Planting perennials are the backbone of a garden because they are dependable blooming plants.

  • Some popular blooming perennials include roses, lupine, delphinium, peonies, primrose, lilies, phlox, sage, asters, daffodils, black-eyed Susans, hibiscus and hydrangeas to name a few.
  • Some ornamental popular perennial grasses include hosta, ferns and pampas grass. Even raspberries and grapes are perennial plants, which return year after year.

Perennial plants can survive many types of environments and soils however choosing the right perennial plants for your climate zone will ensure a longer and healthier plant life for your perennials.

  • When choosing perennials for your garden consider the type of soil you have, what’s in it and how moist it might be.
  • In addition, make a note of sunlight and the garden area—flat, steep or sloped.
  • The climate you live in will make a difference in flowering plants especially bulbs. For example, lupines, peonies and garden phlox, must be exposed to a period of subfreezing temperatures to produce bountiful flowers.
  • When planting, consider the color and time range for blooms so your garden has continuous flowers.
  • A perennial may bloom for two weeks a year or for as long as three months.
  • When buying perennials that are seedlings, potted or field-grown, purchase mature plants.
  • The bigger the plant the more blooms.
  • Beware of perennials with potential invasiveness in your garden such as bamboo, plume poppy, bee balm and silver king.
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Fertilization

Maintaining a perennial garden requires attention to fertilization. A one-time spring application of a low-nitrogen and high phosphorus fertilizer will be plenty.

  • For established perennials a handful of fertilizer around each plant will work.
  • In addition, once or twice per year of applying compost or aged manure will restore nutrients and improve the soil texture and water retention.

Watering

Watering for perennials is not extensive but necessary. Choosing plants suited for your climate may require little watering if mulched properly. However, depending upon the summers, you many need to water more.

Mulching

If planning a new garden, mulch will be necessary to keep weeds out and keep moisture in the soil. An older perennial garden will need less mulch because it is established. Choose finely textured types of mulch so your plants are not overpowered by mulch.

Pinching

Perennials such as asters, chrysanthemums, phlox and salvias will benefit from being pinched back. Pinching creates a healthier and larger plant that will produce more blooms. Pinch back the growing tips using thumb and forefinger during the late spring. Not all kinds of perennials should be pinched. If in doubt, pinch a little and see if it makes a difference.

Deadheading

Removing spent flowers will keep your plants looking their best, and it often stimulates more blooms. Deadheading will prevent plants from expending their energy on seed production. After bloom, some plants should be shorn rather than deadheaded especially for creeping phlox, nepeta, geraniums, daisies, pinks and lavender.

Staking

Tall or weak-stemmed plants need support when they reach blooming size such as delphiniums and hybrid lilies. Shorter plants can also benefit from some kind of support too. Staking supports should be invisible. For individual stems, use bamboo canes, for entire plants use wire support rings and for loose and airy plants use thin branches. Place supports in early spring for the best results and plants will hide stakes as they grow.

Dividing

Most well cared for perennials will need to be divided every few years. They may become too large for their space, and the center or oldest part of the plant may die out leaving a bare middle or the growth may become so dense that the plant is no longer blooming well. Use a shovel to remove the entire plant from the garden. Either pry the plant into pieces or use a shovel or knife to cut the plant into several pieces. Plants should not be divided when they are in bloom or in full growth.

Last Updated: December 29, 2011
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About Sabina Dana Plasse Sabina Dana Plasse holds a bachelor's degree in history from Bucknell University, a master's in liberal arts from Johns Hopkins University and a master's in film and video from American University. She is an award-winning writer and editor living in Sun Valley, Idaho. Besides writing on fine arts, lifestyle, home and garden, entertainment, philanthropy and business, she enjoys teaching film and writing screenplays. Sabina has served as the arts and events editor and living writer for the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper, a twice weekly national award-winning newspaper serving Idaho's Wood River Valley. Sabina adores mountain town living where she is an active snowboarding, skier, mountain biker, hiker, supporter of the arts and an avid seeker of practical living ideas.  

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