Hey garden friends! It’s time to make plans to plant perennials. And, the Groovy Plants Ranch team has pulled together this primer to get you started. We love that perennials can simply be planted once then enjoyed for years. They even multiply to create more plants to expand your gardens or share with friends.
Perennials vs. Annuals?
Perennials, annuals and even biennials – they all have their own unique qualities and benefits. In our own gardens, we like to combine all three to harness their strengths.
- Perennials: Perennials like coral bells, hostas and coneflowers are a solid investment since they return each spring for three or more years. They form clumps that grow larger and eventually can be divided for more plants. They may be slow to start from seed, so we recommend buying plants. Different perennials bloom at different times -- peonies in spring, daylilies in summer and asters in fall.
- Annuals: Annuals live only for one season, but they sure put on a show with their impressive and continuous blooms. Thankfully, they’re reasonably priced and available in flats to replant each spring. Many annuals like sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias are easily started from seeds.
- Biennials: A few plants like foxgloves and hollyhocks live for two years. The first year, they grow leaves, roots and stems then flower the second year.
Perennial Shopping Tips
- Make a list: Before you go plant shopping in person this spring, do your homework and make a list. Collect ideas from videos, Pinterest, magazines, public gardens and even your neighbors’ gardens.
- Stagger bloom times: It’s easy to load a shopping cart full of spring-flowering “eye candy.” Instead, shop for a mix of perennials including those that are not yet in bloom but will flower later in summer and fall.
- Think beyond blooms: Many perennials are known for their colorful, textural foliage like ferns and hostas that bring long-lasting beauty to the garden.
- Read labels: Check plants’ labels to make sure the plants are right for your growing conditions whether shade (less than 4 hours of sun), part shade (4-6 hours of sun) or full sun (6 or more hours of sun). Sun-loving daylilies won’t be happy in a shade garden.
- Buy in multiples: Instead of assembling one of everything, consider buying quantities of a few single varieties in a complementary color palette.
- Evaluate pot sizes: Perennials come in varying pot sizes from 2.5” to one gallon, so pick the size that fits your budget, space and expectations.
When plant shopping, it’s smart to throw a tarp in the back of your vehicle. Plastic tubs are also handy for loading plants. After shopping, plan to head straight home with your purchases; plants can suffer when left in a hot car between errands. Once you arrive home, unload plants and place them in a shady location until you’re ready to plant. Check to see if any are dried out, and water them as needed.
Perennial Planting Tips
Prepare landscape beds, ideally before you go plant shopping. We like to add 2-3 inches of compost and hand till it into the soil with a garden hoe. Next, arrange the plants atop the soil. Place taller ones in the back and shorter ones in front. While working, try to reach into the beds and avoid stepping on or compacting the soil. Once you have the plants in place, you can begin planting. Remove a plant from a pot by placing one hand at the base of the plant; turn the pot upside down with your other hand, and catch it with the first hand. Dig a hole deep enough so that when the plant is placed in the hole its crown is level or slightly above the surface of the ground. Fill soil around the plant then gently press the soil around its base. After all the plants are installed, top the soil with a layer of mulch and thoroughly water the plants with a sprinkler or garden hose.
Perennial Plant Care
During the first year, new plants need at least one inch of rainfall, so be sure to supplement with water as needed. If it is hot and dry, you may need to water more than 3 times a week. If it rains a lot, then watering may not be needed. When watering, always remember to deeply water plants to their roots; a light surface watering won’t do the trick. Check on plants regularly and watch for stresses like yellow or droopy leaves, critter damage and diseases. The Missouri Botanical Garden has a helpful trouble-shooting guide. To keep your plants looking fresh later in the season, we recommend cutting them back to encourage more growth and blooms. Here’s our guide.
Winning Plant Combos
Colorful Shade: Under a shade tree or along the north side of a house, try ‘Berry Smoothie’ coral bells, ‘Blonde Lipstick’ hosta, ‘Everillo’ carex, ‘Shrimps on the Barbie’ lungwort and ‘Sun King’ aralia.
Purple Pollinators: Welcome butterflies and bees with ‘Balmy lilac’ monarda, ‘Millenium’ allium, ‘Jeana’ phlox and ‘Magnus’ coneflower. Be sure to add asters, too, for late-season food.
Heat Lovers: Along a sunny sidewalk or mailbox, plant these tough, drought-tolerant perennials including ‘Fire Spinner’ delosperma, ‘Belleza White’ guara, ‘Desert Eve Terracota’ yarrow, ‘Sunsparkler Wildfire’ sedum, ‘Silver Mound’ artemisia and ‘Arizona apricot’ gaillardia.
Cottage Charm: Embrace the informal cottage style with this combination of ‘Honey Dijon’ verbascum, ‘May Night’ salvia, ‘Takion Blue’ campanula, ‘George Davison’ crocosmia, ‘Kudos Coral’ agastache, ‘Sombrero Orange’ coneflower and ‘Becky’ daisies.Curb Appeal: Slow traffic with these stunners including ‘Midnight Marvel’ hibiscus, ‘Silver Dragon’ liriope, ‘Fragrant Returns’ daylily, ‘Redhot Popsicle’ kniphofia and ‘Limelight’ catmint.