Growing Perennials

Growing perennials is a rewarding gardening experience, as they continue to come up and provide beautiful color year after year. This is a guide about growing perennials.

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Article: Designing With Perennials

Designing with perennialsWith all of their colors, shapes, and textures, it's hard to imagine designing a garden without perennials. One of the greatest advantages of using them in the garden is their longevity. Well placed perennials will reward you with seasons of beautiful color for years to come. Here are some helpful suggestions for planning perennial beds and borders to help you get the most of these versatile plants.

Choosing Plants

Make a list. Start the design process by making a list of perennials that have proven successful in your area. Check the gardening section of your library, search online, or ask your county extension agency for recommendations. Once you have your list, try to narrow it down to your top 10 to 12 favorites.

Plan for all seasons. By planting perennials that bloom at different times, you can avoid the dreaded color gap. Adding a few annuals, summer bulbs, and low-growing shrubs into the mix will provide continuous color and interest across the seasons.

Go native. Plants always grow best in conditions similar to their natural habitat so consider planting some native plants. It's always easier to match a plant to your garden conditions, than to try to change your garden conditions to match a plant.

Simplify the color scheme. If want to create a sense of harmony, select a color scheme consisting of 2 or 3 colors that compliment each other (for example, blues, purples, and pinks; or yellows, oranges, and reds). Use the color of your house as the backdrop. An inexpensive color wheel (available at art supply stores) can help you identify colors that will compliment your house.

Plant drifts of color. Plants generally look better when massed together in different sized groups, rather than individual plants scattered here and there.

Vary the heights. The old rule of putting tall plants in the back and short ones in front doesn't necessary always apply. If a flower bed can be viewed from both sides, the tallest plants should be planted toward the middle.

Designing Beds & Borders

Select a size and shape. Most perennials tend to fall on the side of 'informal' so irregular-shaped beds and gently curving borders are preferable to the more formal circles, ovals, and perfectly straight lines. When creating the size of the beds, the amount of space you have and your ability to maintain it are the most important factors. Borders look best when they are at least twice as long as they are wide. A island bed no more than 4 feet wide will give you easy access from both sides.

Prepare the soil. Soil is the most important ingredient in a successful garden. Begin by turning over the soil with a spade and clearing the area of weeds. Add in plenty of compost and well-rotted manure to improve the soil's structure and get plants off to a good start. An ideal pH level for most perennials falls somewhere between 6.0 and 7.5. If you're unsure of yours, have it tested.

Give plants space. When constructing beds near fences or foundation walls, try to leave at least 12 to 14 inches of space between the plants and nearby structures. Not only will this provide ample air circulation and help mitigate the potential for disease, but it will make weeding, watering, and other chores much easier on you.

Planting Tips

'Plant' on paper first. No matter how bad you think you draw, it's always worthwhile to sketch out a diagram of your design on paper before planting a new bed. Use colored pencils (corresponding to the colors to each plant) and draw circles indicating location and the plant's mature width. Start with the tallest (anchor) plants first, placing them at the back or in the center of the your bed. As you continue to draw, think about various color and texture combinations and when each plant is in flower.

Pot up invasives. Some perennials, such as members of the mint family, can be highly invasive if left unchecked. To prevent them from taking over, plant them in terra cotta pots and sink the entire plant (pot and all) into the ground. When the plants become overcrowded, simply dig up the container, divide the plants, and repot them.

Add in some annuals. Most perennials take 3 or more years to really fill out and reach their potential. Annuals are a wonderful way to add season-long color and fill in the gaps in the meantime.

Plant when the time is right. So when is the best time to plant? In the North, plant your perennial beds and borders in the spring so that plants have plenty of time to settle in and establish themselves before winter. Warmer zones can take advantage of the warm soil and reliable rains of fall, allowing at least two months before the cold sets in for the plants to develop root reserves.

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Article: Ten Perennials For A Variety of Uses

By EllenB 793 1

Perennial Flowers in YardTechnically speaking, a perennial plant is a plant that has a life cycle lasting longer than 2 years. But for most gardeners, perennials are more like old friends. When given the proper care, we can look forward to seeing them return to the garden year after year. Because there are literally thousands of kinds of perennials, it can be a bit overwhelming to try to figure out which type of perennial works best for different situations. Here are suggestions for 10 perennials in a variety of categories.

Ten Perennials for Fragrance

Maximize fragrant perennials by planting them near walkways, decks and close to doorways and windows. When people passing by brush plants, they will release the aroma of their leaves and flowers.
  • beebalm
  • garden phlox
  • gasplants
  • lily-of-the-valley
  • pinks
  • peonies
  • primrose (auricula)
  • Russian sage
  • soapwort
  • thyme

Ten Perennials for Attracting Hummingbirds (& Butterflies)

Hummingbirds and butterflies (flying flowers) are attracted to your garden by bright colored or tubular flowers that produce nectar. Here are 10 perennials they love:
  • beardtongue
  • beebalm
  • campion
  • coralbell
  • daylily
  • delphinium
  • foxglove
  • hollyhock
  • honeysuckle
  • monkshood

Ten Perennials for Cut Flowers

Perennials with strong stems, attractive foliage and showy blooms make the best cut flowers for bouquets and arrangements.
  • aster
  • astilbe
  • baby's breath
  • bell flower
  • fleabane
  • foxglove
  • hollyhock
  • iris
  • pink
  • Shasta daisy

Ten Perennials for Dried Flowers

Perennials for cut flowers are also often good as dried flowers. Pick them after midmorning dew has dried and dry them out of direct sunlight to prevent them from fading.
  • astilbe
  • baby's breath
  • blanketflower
  • delphinium
  • false-sunflower
  • globe thistle
  • goldenrod
  • Russian sage
  • sea holly
  • statice

Ten Perennials for Groundcovers

Perennial groundcovers are low growing plants, and provide useful solutions for places where little else will grow or where you want to conserve water, prevent soil erosion or reduce the growth of weeds. (* Denotes flowers that grows best in shade).
  • anemone*
  • clematis
  • cranesbill
  • creeping Jenny (sun or shade)
  • elephant-ears (sun or shade)
  • lady's mantle*
  • potentilla
  • sage
  • stonecrop
  • Solomon's seal*

Ten Perennials for Lasting Blooms

To keep the color show going all season long, plant a few perennials with long blooming periods (6 weeks of more). Make sure that some of them start blooming in the spring, some in mid-summer and some of them in the fall. (* Denotes flowers that grow well in shade).
  • baby's breath (spring & summer)
  • beebalm (summer)
  • black-eyed Susan (summer & fall)
  • bleeding heart* (spring & summer)
  • coralbell* (summer)
  • foxglove (summer)
  • garden mum (fall)
  • garden phlox (summer)
  • monkshood* (summer or fall)
  • poppy (spring or summer)

Ten Perennials for Shade

These perennials are happiest under a canopy of dappled sunlight. In their natural habitats, these plants are often found in wooded areas and thrive in acidic soils that contain high amounts of rotted leaves.
  • anemone
  • astilbe
  • bleeding heart
  • goatsbeard
  • hosta
  • Jacob's ladder
  • lily-of-the-valley
  • ostrich fern
  • primrose
  • shooting star

Ten Perennials Resistant to Deer

When food is scarce, deer will eat anything. Under normal circumstance, however, deer will usually pass by these perennials:
  • aster
  • black-eyed Susan
  • blanket flower
  • daylily
  • lupine
  • monkshood
  • sage
  • Shasta daisy
  • snow-in-summer
  • spurge

Ten Perennials for Foliage

Perennials with interesting foliage (interesting leaf shapes, colors, sizes and textures) add color and texture to your entire garden, even when they are not in bloom. (* Denotes flowers that grow well in shade).
  • bishop's hat*
  • blue oat grass
  • coral bell
  • hens and chicks
  • lamium*
  • pulmonaria*
  • rayflower*
  • snakeroot*
  • stonecrop
  • yucca

Ten Drought Tolerant Perennials

Drought tolerant perennials, not to be confused with drought resistant perennials (perennials that are native to semi-arid regions) are perennials that have adapted or have been genetically changed to survive short periods of drought conditions. Of course the very best plants for drought tolerance are those that are native to your growing zone.
  • artemisia
  • asters
  • baby's breath
  • blanket flower
  • coneflowers (Echinacea)
  • coreopsis
  • day lilies
  • phlox
  • sedum
  • verbena

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Article: Perennial Flower Garden Maintenance

By EllenB 793 1

Man watering perennial bed with a watering can

To keep your perennial flowers healthy and looking their best all season long, you need to get in the habit of scheduling some routine maintenance. Here are some strategies for upkeep that require minimal effort, allowing you to spend more time enjoying your garden, and less time working in it.


Applying mulch is the single most effective way to save time and money in the garden. A few inches of organic mulch suppresses weeds, conserves water, helps maintains an even soil temperature, and adds a valuable layer of organic matter to the soil. Early in the season, choose organic mulch like chopped leaves, straw, pine needles, grass clippings, or shredded bark. Apply a few inches of mulch around plants leaving about an inch of space around the stem of each plant. If your mulch begins to break down and starts to look thin during the season, add a little more.


Make the phrase "more water, less often" your mantra for watering your perennial garden. Shallow watering makes for shallow roots, and when the soil surface dries out, so do the roots. Instead, allow water to soak deep into the soil. This encourages roots to grow deeper, which reduces the need for frequent watering. It's also helpful to build a rim of soil around plants to create a saucer-like depression that holds water. Perennials need watering most during the following times and in the following situations:

  • While seeds are germinating and during the seedling stage.
  • Immediately after transplanting.
  • When planted on slopes and in south-facing beds.
  • During extended periods of heat and drought.
  • In the late fall, just prior to freeze up.


Keep the need for fertilizing to a minimum by starting with healthy soil. Beyond that, a light fertilization program is usually more than enough to carry perennials through the growing season. Use a high phosphorus organic fertilizer (e.g. 5-10-5) at 4 to 6 week intervals (or according to package directions) to promote healthy stems and flowers. Always water after applying fertilizer to clean fertilizer from the foliage and reduce the risk of burn. There are two basic types of fertilizers: granular fertilizers and water-soluble fertilizers. Granular fertilizers are usually slow-releasing - they feed plants slowly over a long period to time. Water-soluble fertilizers produce quicker results by rapidly releasing all of their nutrients. Either type is fine, but a granular fertilizer will require fewer applications (less maintenance!)

Creating a Maintenance Schedule

The easiest way get garden chores done in a timely fashion is to set up a schedule. A simple wall calendar will work well for managing your "to-do" lists and it's also a nice way to record what is happening in your garden (e.g. last frosts, first flowers, bird species, etc.) Don't worry about sticking to a rigid schedule. Nature is dynamic and forgiving. If you have to leave town for a week or two, your garden chores will happily wait until you get back.

Weekly Tasks

Take a few minutes each day to walk outside and enjoy your flower beds. Once each week, take along a bucket with a hand trowel, scissors, and a pair of pruning shears and spend a few minutes taking care of some routine tasks:
  • Remove dead flowers.
  • Pull weeds.
  • Remove bad bugs and treat for any diseases that have appeared during the past week.
  • Stake any flowers that look as though they need support.
  • Water as necessary.

Monthly Tasks

In addition to your weekly gardening chores, a few jobs need attention once a month. You can work these tasks into your weekly routine, or allow yourself a little extra time once a month.

  • Reassess your watering as the weather changes. Give your flower beds more water during hot weather, less during cool weather.
  • Cut each perennial back by about a third when it stops blooming to shape plant's growth and encourage a second flush of flowers.
  • Apply fertilizer as scheduled.
  • Add more mulch as necessary.

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Article: Perennial Plants Explained

By EllenB 793 1

For beginning gardeners, the plant world can seem fraught with confusing, and often hard to pronounce, terminology. Fortunately, and I think most plants would agree with me, it isn't necessary to commit a large number of gardening terms to memory in order to successfully grow something.

iris flowers

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Article: Perennials For Beginners

If you're new to planting flowers, you might want to plant perennials, they'll bloom every year without you having to replant them. So make the most of your planting time and dollars.

Perennials For Beginners

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Question: Suggestions for Perennial Flowers

By Debby Showalter 2

I have two large, brick flower beds. What can I plant that will come up every year. I plant every year about Mothers Day! The cost is just too much anymore. I love pretty colors and no work. After twenty years of planting I need help. Thank you for any help!

Hardiness Zone: 5a

NanaDebby from Indianapolis, IN

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Most Recent Answer

By metroplex 82 416 Flag

March 23, 2009

I think it depends on what zone of the US you live in. Try a website that sells flowers and there will be a link that shows the zone number of your state.

I live in Houston, TX USA and I think I'm zone 9 or 10 - I never can remember, but the site should show you what will thrive in your particular zone. Good luck!

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Question: Help Choosing Perennials

By Kristi 1

I have a raised, bricked flower bed running a partial length of our house. It is 15' long and 1.5' wide and sits in partial to full shade. It faces the street, so I'd like to plant something eye-catching, that might provide continuous color. I'm okay with planting a few annuals to add to the look, but would really like some suggestions for perennials to anchor this area. Thanks so much for your help!

Hardiness Zone: 4b

KMHL from Sutton, NE

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Most Recent Answer

By guest (Guest Post) Flag

May 16, 2008

Hello, I live in the US, but your post caught my eye because the name of your town is my maiden name. lol Also, I have a very similar area in the front of my house. YOur situation is somewhat different than mine however, my shady housefront is in a rural wooded area. Somehow I feel your shaded front area is either city or suburban. For this reason, I wouldnt plant any woodland plants there ,but lean more heavily toward the rugged shade plants that you might find. YOu may even want to see what is native to your country. Also, the bricks you mentioned may create a little microclimate in your yard. Any brink, macadem, or concrete absorbs heat and creates an effect that is almost like a little oven. So look at this area and try to notice what you have. Does the street get lots of sun? These are the types of questions you might need to ask yourself.

If you want to plant annuals, I suggest pansies as they do well for me. Pansies appear to be quite hardy. They even grow in some snow. Also, there are begonias, coleus, and impatients.

I prefer to plant perennials. For your situation, I think ajuga is a good shorter plant. It gets a bad rap. But your area is contained and it will work for you. It have lovely leaves that are sorta evergreen and they turn burgundy in the fall.

In the spring it get lovely purple flowers. I also grow lamium. I have Beacon Silver which has silver colored leaves that seem to glow in the dark. They show up nicely in the shade. In the spring Beacon Silver gets pink flowers that are quite showy imho. Lamium imho isnt quite as tough as ajuga, but like I said it grows here. Lamium is another groundcover short plant.

You will need some medium tall plants for the middle area of your garden. I use lady's mantle for htat. The flowers are chartreuse and tiny. But the leaves are very showy. Water beads up on them. They look like a lady's stole or mantle. If they get ragged looking, you can cut them off and they grow back quickly. This is a reblooming perennial so it blooms all summer. Again, its tough.

Its almost impossible to get anything to bloom in full shade. There are different types of shade. So again, I think the most important thing you can do is observe the area you have to see what is happening there.

I hesitate to mention daylilies because I'm afraid its too dark there for them. But you might want to plant them on the partly shady area. I prefer the newer reblooming varieites. The one I'm thinking of is called Happy Returns and is yellow. imho yellow is a good color for shade as it stands out and looks sunny.

Frankly, I'd look for anything that has a silvery or yellowish leaf. I think foliage may be your friend. Check online to see what hostas might have that characteristic. Hostas can be tough enough for your situtaion. I think the ones with yellowish leaves need more sun than the green, white, or silver so plant accordingly.

I cant think right now of a tall plant that you might be able to use. Foxglove is bi annual. My mind envisions it in a woodland setting, however. But you can try it. YOu might be able to grow liatris which is spikey. I think your area is too dark for liatris though.

I'd plant the area full with no spaces between the plants. If you plan for it to all grow together, it will look lush and full. I think that in itself might make it showy as you want. I know how you feel because I have full shade created by an overhang in the front of my house. So mine is not only very dark and faces North, but its dry as well. lol... I am sure if you search for plants with variegated foliage you'll be quite surprised at what you can achieve. foliage might be your best friend.

warmest regards,

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Tip: Using Leaves For Mulching Tender Perennials

My husband and I have a lot of flower gardens in the summer. I have around 250 day lilies that I have collected, and am still collecting more. As the leaves are falling, we take a leaf blower and pick them up, which chops them. Then, since they are light, we use these as mulch around our day lilies and other plants to winterize them. They protect the roots of the plants and it is cheaper and not as heavy as mulch.

I also have two tulip beds with about 400 tulips in them and we do the same thing. Our other perennials, which are hardy, do not need mulching.

By Lil from Beaver Falls, PA

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August 23, 2012
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