Growing Perennials in Your Garden
Here are some important points to remember when you are planting perennial herbs and perennials in general. These notes are from a talk I gave at a Garden Show in Moncton a few years back. The joys of growing herbs and perennials depend on preparation and good maintenance practices in and around your garden. I hope these points will be helpful to you in growing your plants this coming season. If you have any questions or comments, simply drop me a note!
To prepare the bed before planting, dig to a depth of from 18” to 24” and loosen the soil.
Incorporate organic matter into your bed; if it’s a clay soil, add peat moss; if it’s dry, add compost and manure. A good combo that has Black Earth, Peat Moss and Manure all in one is a good soil addition; a basic 3-In-1 mix available at most garden centres is suggested.
Make sure you have the proper pH for the perennials you want to grow. pH is the measure of acidity in soils and it determines how and if plants will have access to the nutrients in your soil. Perform a soil test to find out. Most perennials prefer a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Some require more acidity in the soil, such as Bog Rosemary, Heaths and Heathers, Blueberries, Bearberry, Bunchberry, Hydrangea and Azalea shrubs, etc.
At planting time, please don’t put water in the hole. You run the risk of placing rooted plants in empty air once the water drains. Instead, place a handful of moistened, inoculated Pro-Mix at the bottom. Why “Pro-Mix”? Because it contains “mycorrhizae.”
This very helpful fungus will improve your plant’s growth and ability to retain water and to access nutrients from the surrounding soil. It’s important to have this beneficial fungus be in contact with the roots of the plant at the time of planting. You can buy Pro-Mix Potting Soil manufactured by Premier Tech that contains “Myke™” at most garden centres around town. I highly recommend it!
Regularly, you use Pro-Mix in your containers for all your plants, but also be sure to use it in the garden by the handful for your perennials and herbs. After planting, then you water generously, and keep watering for a few days or weeks to insure the plant has established itself, if it doesn’t rain.
Mulch for moisture retention, weed suppression and for the general overall health of plants. Mulching slowly releases organic matter into the soil, which is a good thing. Replace mulch yearly. Do not place mulch near the centre of plants, as that can encourage disease and/or insects. Leave a space from the crown outwards to allow air circulation. The exception to this is when you are mulching for winter protection. Then you place 2” of mulch on top of the crown as well as the soil surrounding the plant – but only after the plant has gone dormant for winter. This is replacing Mother Nature’s thick snow cover, when there is none, as we had last winter.
Water your garden plants in the morning so the moisture has time to dry off during the day from the sun and breeze. If you water at night, the wet conditions promote disease and insect/slug damage.
To maintain a long blooming season for your perennials, pinch off the spent blooms and this will encourage the plant to produce more flowers. In some plants, you want to prune the flowers altogether to encourage maximum leaf growth, for example, with Hostas.
Don’t be afraid to prune your perennials when they need it. Pruning is the gardener’s secret to lush plants and continued growth. When to prune? The 3 D’s in pruning are that you pinch off or cut stems that are Dead, Damaged or Diseased and then you also prune for the overall beauty of the plant. What does pruning do? It forces the growth hormones to descend into the lateral stems instead of staying in the vertical ones, as all plants are ruled by this “apical dominance” imperative.
Lastly, protect them for winter. Divide them as needed in the spring. Let go when it’s time. Some perennials are short-lived and no amount of TLC will bring them back, so it’s best to refresh the bed by pulling the more elder plants and sending them to the compost heap.
My Favourite Perennials
Coral Bells, Lady’s Mantle, Coneflower, Catmint, Russian Sage, Campion, Anemone, Hakone Grass, Tiarella, to name a few.
Ground covers, Privacy ‘walls,’ Atmosphere, Accents, swatches of colour, cut or dried flowers, aromatherapy and self-care products. Aromatic plants such as Lady’s Mantle, Coneflower, Honeysuckle vine and Roses are welcome in any garden!
Good where snow will fall repeatedly – dies back in the fall and returns next spring
Good in difficult areas such as shady locations in your yard, too sunny.
Filler plants for a landscape where mostly trees and shrubs predominate
Provide colour and foliage interest through a long season, even winter. Example are tall grasses, coneflowers, sedum stalks, etc.
Provide attraction for wildlife and especially, pollinators: birds, butterflies, beneficial insects and hummingbirds
Make great patio container plants, incorporated with annuals, herbs or tropicals for that stunning summer-is-here look, whether you choose them for their foliage or their flowering beauty.
There are many ways to use Perennials in your garden and outdoor living areas. They are the jewels of the garden!