Perennials are some of the most rewarding plants around for gardeners, and fortunately, perennial care isn’t so difficult. With a little extra attention, these prolific bloomers will be around for years bringing you flower after flower. These are some of our tips and guidelines for getting the most out of your perennials.
Generally speaking, perennials need soil that is well-draining and fertile. Assuring that your soil is suitable will make perennial care far simpler for you in the long run. Here are some steps to determining the quality and texture of your soil.
- Squeeze a handful of moist soil into a ball.
- If it breaks apart quite easily, it has a high sand component. If it compresses without crumbling, it has a high clay content.
You want soil that holds together, but you also want it to crumble under pressure. This type of loamy soil will keep your perennials from being waterlogged, while still retaining moisture.
Improve both sandy and clay soil by adding organic matter, such as compost. This will naturally enrich the soil and promote healthy soil without the risk of over-fertilizing. Never supplement your soil with non-composted organic matter, as it will need to decompose first, which can lead to temporary nutrient deficiencies as microorganisms break it down.
It’s tempting to try to improve clay soil by supplementing it with sand, however, this will have the opposite effect and you will be unable to plant in the resulting mixture.
Check the pH preference of the varieties you are planting. Add lime if your soil needs to be more alkaline, and add elemental sulfur if you need your soil to be more acidic.
An inch or two of mulch can stop the soil underneath from drying out, as well as help to prevent competition from weeds.
When planting perennials it’s important to consider the future of your landscape. It may be tempting to plant them close together in order to quickly have a seamless drift of foliage. However, this is where one of the best traits of perennials can come back to haunt you. As they return and spread each year, you will quickly have a crowded garden that will need immediate attention.
One solution for this problem is to plant annuals in between your perennials. After a year or two, your perennials should have spread enough that they can stand-alone, and you won’t have to plant any more annuals.
As you might imagine, watering is an extremely vital part of perennial care. Most perennials only need water when the top few inches of soil dry out. However, if your perennial is from a traditionally dry area, it may prefer the soil to dry out longer than other varieties. Additionally, if your plant is from a very wet environment, it may want not want the soil to dry out.
Water them when the soil is dry at first, but if they eventually start to wilt, you may need to do some investigating. Dig down a few inches next to your plant. If it’s still dry, you need to water them more often. If the soil is still wet, you probably need to water less.
Sun exposure will vary by perennial, but be sure to double check that your location gets the appropriate amount of sunlight for your varieties.
Too little sun will affect the plants ability to thrive and bloom properly, while too much sun can kill a plant.
Despite their prolific blooming tendencies, perennials really don’t need very much fertilizer.
Apply a slow-release balanced fertilizer in spring in order to avoid over-fertilizing.
Amending your soil with an inch or two of compost is a great practice to keep your soil healthy and fertile. Adding compost every year can eventually eliminate the need to fertilize your perennials altogether.
Seasonal Perennial Care & Maintenance
Trimming spent flowers from your perennials will encourage them to produce new blooms, and this is considered a valuable practice in perennial care for these varieties. In addition, deadheaded plants generally look much cleaner.
Snip the old blossoms at the base to prevent the headless flower stalk appearance.
If a spent flower shares a stem with unopened flower buds, cut just above the bud to avoid unnecessarily removing good blooms.
Perennials that respond well to deadheading include Coneflowers (Echinaceas), Daylilies, Gaillardia, Platycodon, Dianthus, Rudbeckia, and Jacobs Ladder, as well as numerous others.
Some perennials need pinching in order to grow in a more compact, reliable habit. Simply pinch several inches off the top with your fingers directly above a set of leaves. This will develop multiple stems, creating twice as many blooms on a more densely foliated shrub.
Only pinch your perennials back in spring. Pinching them back too late in the season can affect blooming.
Traditionally any herbaceous perennial variety that has a bushy habit will appreciate pinching back. Some common varieties that respond well to pinching are asters, mums, monarda, Russian sage, and Veronica.
Some perennials with tall stems will periodically snap, lean, or topple, whether it’s due to weather or other reasons. Rich, fertile soil will help your plants to grow strong stems that resist breaking or other damage. However, even with perfectly rich soil it can still be beneficial to have support for your long stemmed perennials.
For tall perennials such as Dephinium, lilies, or foxgloves, you may try sticking a bamboo stake in the ground next to them at the beginning of the season, and attaching the plants to the stakes. Some people use twist ties to attach them, while some gardeners swear-by using self-adhesive bandaging, which will decompose by the end of the season.
Place flat grids above clump forming perennials, such as peonies, milkweeds, and mums. These varieties will grow through the grids, creating a discreet but effective support.
Tomato cages can work well for bushy, upright varieties, such as salvia or sedum.
The most important part of staking is that you need to do it at the beginning of spring. This will allow your plants to grow around your staking, making it nearly invisible.
An important aspect of perennial care for many species is Dividing. You’ll need to divide some varieties of perennials in order to prevent the original inner plant from dying prematurely. As they spread, the outer plants begin to choke the center plants out of water and resources. If the middle of your perennial clusters appear to be struggling, with small leaves and limited growth, you may be overdue for some pruning.
Dig around the plant at the drip line, then insert your digging tool underneath the root clump and work it around until you are able to remove it. You may need to cut larger perennial clumps in half to remove them.
There are several different types of roots, but the procedure is relatively similar for all of them.
If your plant grows small new plants around the perimeter of the original plants, all sharing thin roots, you can simply remove a few outer plants with the roots attached and plant them or throw them away. These clumping type of perennials include Echinacea, Hosta, and Asters, to name a few.
If the roots run along the surface, find where a new stem emerges, and cut the roots between the new stem and old stem. Some of these varieties include sedums, and black-eyed susans.
If your perennial has a taproot, split the taproot with a knife. You’ll want to leave a piece of taproot with each plant, some smaller roots, and an eye. Poppies and Platycodon are just two of these taproot varieties.
There are other types of perennial roots, but you mainly need to make sure that you are removing separate pieces that feature above ground growth, as well as their own developed roots.
It’s best to divide while your perennials aren’t in bloom. Many gardeners divide in fall after the growing season but well before the first frost, to give the roots time to reestablish before attempting new growth in spring.
We hope that this guide taught you a little something about perennial care and how to get the most out of your perennials. Thanks for reading, and keep on growing!
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