Perennial Flowers: Planting And Care (2024)

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    Quentin Holland
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    Advanced gardening
Perennial Flowers: Planting And Care (3)

Perennials are flowers that come back year after year, providing a stable and low-maintenance attraction. They can be planted at any time, but the best times are spring or fall, which allows the plant to settle before the hot, dry summer weather arrives. Perennials can be planted in your garden, in a pot, or even in a hanging basket.

CharacteristicsValues
Perennial flowersBalloon flower, Black-eyed Susan, Blazing star, Bugleweed, Clematis, Coneflower, Cranesbill geranium, Creeping thyme, Daylily, English Lavender, Siberian Iris, Giant Allium, Hellebore, New England Aster, Montauk daisy, Perennial Tickseed, Yarrow, Asters, Mums, Goatsbeard, Hostas, Peonies, Salvias, Foxglove, Cushion Spurge, Columbine, Russian Sage, Stonecrop, Astilbe, Iris, Phlox, Baptisia australis, Heliopsis helianthoides, Bee Balm, Perennial Hibiscus, New England Aster, Shasta Daisy, Roman chamomile, Catmint, Lavender, Sedum, False Indigo, Peonies, Catmint, Coneflower, Daylilies, Sedum, Lupines, Butterfly Bush, Hydrangeas, Yarrow, Clematis, Baby's Breath, Roses, Tulips, Bee Balms, Mother of Thyme, Foxglove, Amsonia, Aquilegia, Shasta Daisy, Hostas, Peonies, False Indigo, Daylilies, Phlox, Lupines, Butterfly Bush, Hydrangeas, Yarrow
Perennial plantsAsters, Mums, Salvias, Columbine, Russian Sage, Stonecrop, Astilbe, Iris, Phlox, Baptisia australis, Heliopsis helianthoides, Bee Balm, Perennial Hibiscus, New England Aster, Shasta Daisy, Roman chamomile, Catmint, Lavender, Sedum, False Indigo, Peonies, Catmint, Coneflower, Daylilies, Sedum, Lupines, Butterfly Bush, Hydrangeas, Yarrow

What You'll Learn

  • In a garden bed
  • In pots
  • In rockeries
  • Near trees
  • In a wildflower meadow

Perennial Flowers: Planting And Care (4)

In a garden bed

Perennials are a great choice for your garden bed as they return year after year, offering a better return on your money than annuals. They are the backbone of a garden, providing long-lasting colour and texture. Here is a guide to planting perennials in a garden bed.

Choosing Perennials

First, select perennials suited to your USDA Hardiness zone. Then, choose perennials that match the sunlight conditions in your garden bed. Full sun means about 6 or more hours of direct sunlight, while part sun is about half that.

Preparing the Garden Bed

Prepare the planting area by adding organic matter such as compost, old leaves, or shredded bark mulch. This step can be done a few days to a whole season ahead of planting. If you are installing a new bed, try to assemble as many of the plants as you can to streamline the process. Smaller perennials in 4-inch pots are cheaper and will catch up to larger perennials within a year.

Arranging the Perennials

Before planting, arrange the perennials in the garden bed to visualise the design. Keep the plants well-watered while they are out of the ground. This step allows you to observe the layout from different angles and at different times of the day, making any necessary adjustments.

Planting the Perennials

Water the perennials before digging any holes. The planting hole should be slightly deeper than the plant's pot and twice as wide. Toss in some organic matter, and if the soil is dry, water the hole. Remove the plant from the pot, loosening the root ball to encourage new root growth. Set the plant in the hole, ensuring it faces the desired direction and is at the correct depth. Mix organic matter with the soil you removed from the hole, adding a low-nitrogen organic fertiliser if desired. Fill the hole halfway, watering to settle the soil, then finish filling and gently firm the soil around the plant.

Aftercare

Water the newly planted perennials thoroughly, soaking the soil. Cover the soil with a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as compost or shredded bark mulch, keeping it pulled back from the plant stems. Perennials require minimal maintenance, but occasional tasks include deadheading, pruning, and dividing.

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In pots

Perennials are a great choice for pots and containers, adding instant colour and foliage to patios, porches and decks. They are also a good option if you are looking to save money, as they require less maintenance than annuals and can be transplanted into the garden at the end of the season. Perennials can be left in their pots for several years, after which they can be divided and replanted in fresh compost.

When choosing perennials for a container, first pick a dominant centrepiece plant, then select at least two others with contrasting or blending foliage and flowers. It's a good idea to think about foliage colour first, as this will likely dominate the planter. Also, consider the ultimate size of the plants to ensure they don't overwhelm the container as they grow.

  • Hosta: These plants not only survive but thrive in containers, especially in shaded areas. Their oversized, flowing foliage comes in a variety of leaf styles, colours and variegated patterns, making a bold statement. Hostas are low-maintenance and require less watering than annual pots. They are also rarely affected by pests when potted.
  • Coral bells: Coral bells grow well as potted perennials and can be placed in full sun or shade. They are extremely low-maintenance and their tall, wispy blooms attract hummingbirds. The foliage colours range from green to dark purple, red and salmon, offering a variety to match almost any space.
  • Liriope: Also known as lily turf, liriope grows well in both shady and full-sun locations. Its lush, compact blades fill pots with thick growth, making it perfect for companion planting. Liriope is extremely drought-resistant and can survive long periods without water. It is also rarely bothered by pests.
  • Lavender: Lavender likes good drainage, so be sure to incorporate horticultural grit into your compost when planting. Most varieties are evergreen and fully hardy.
  • Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve': This short-lived perennial wallflower is in flower virtually all year round in mild areas. Grow it on its own or underplant with spring bulbs.
  • Penstemons: These produce foxglove-like flowers for months, in shades of purple, pink and red. They are semi-evergreen and hardy.
  • Daylilies (Hemerocallis): Daylilies only bloom for a day, but they produce bloom after bloom, giving a display for many weeks. Divide or replace them every three to four years to prevent the roots from becoming congested.
  • Festuca glauca: The grey-blue, evergreen foliage of festuca glauca combines well with a wide range of plants throughout the year, especially white, bright pinks and reds, or lime greens and acid yellows.
  • Heucheras: These evergreen plants are mostly grown for their foliage, which comes in a wide range of colours, from acid yellow to dark purple. They also bear spikes of tiny flowers in summer.
  • Hellebores: Hellebores are among the first plants to flower, brightening up gardens in January and February and often providing nectar for bees. Growing them in pots means you can enjoy them up close.

When choosing a container, it's important to select one with a drainage hole to prevent waterlogging. The bigger the pot, the better, as perennials have larger root systems than annuals and benefit from the extra space. Clay, glazed and porcelain pots are susceptible to breaking in the winter, so plastic, composite, metal and wood pots are better choices if you plan to leave your containers outside.

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Perennial Flowers: Planting And Care (6)

In rockeries

Rockeries, or rock gardens, are a stylish and low-maintenance way to display your favourite perennial plants. They are easy to create – all you need is a few large rocks or stones, free-draining soil, and a mix of rockery plants.

When arranging plants with rocks, it's best to avoid planting in rows or patterns. Instead, use a variety of plants and different heights, like perennials, ornamental grasses, small shrubs, and creeping ground covers, to balance the rocks. You can also add contrast to your rockery with outcroppings of tall plants along a border, shoots of whispy texture, or a small burst of colour with seasonal flowers.

  • Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris): This plant bears light purple, cup-shaped flowers that mature into a star shape, above ferny foliage. It grows to about 20cm in height and spread. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.
  • Pinks (Dianthus): Named for the serrated edge of their flower petals, which look as though they've been trimmed with pinking shears, these flowers have a clove-like scent and come in shades of pink, white, and red. Most are small in habit. Grow in full sun to partial shade in moist but well-drained soil.
  • Thyme (Thymus): With their low-growing, spreading habit, most varieties of thyme are perfect for rockeries. Their leaves range from dark green to golden or variegated. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.
  • Hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum): These hardy, succulent plants are native to rocky outcrops in mountainous regions. They look superb in rockeries, especially alongside low evergreen plants such as sedums. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.
  • Aubretia: Aubretias are extremely popular rock garden plants, bearing low-growing carpets of colour in late spring and early summer. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.
  • Trailing bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana): This low-growing, spreading alpine campanula works well in pots and as ground cover in hot, sunny corners. It bears masses of small, star-shaped, purple-blue flowers from summer to early autumn. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.
  • Saxifrage (Saxifraga): These mound-forming, evergreen alpine plants bear rosettes of leaves from which tall stems of flowers appear from spring to summer. Grow in moist but well-drained soil, in partial to full shade.
  • Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens): This low-growing plant bears mounds of evergreen dark leaves and contrasting pure white flowers. It's perfect for growing in a rock garden and is beloved by hoverflies. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.
  • Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum): This culinary herb makes a stunning, colour-saturated edible ground cover in full sun. Brushing past or stepping on it releases a pleasant, minty fragrance. It's drought-tolerant and, in mild climates, evergreen. It grows to about three inches in height, with tiny pink-purple blossoms. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.
  • English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): This shrubby herb is used in medicinal and culinary applications. It thrives in full sun and dry, sandy, somewhat acidic soil, making it a perfect choice for rockeries. Its key asset is its fragrance, so be sure to place it where people can brush past and release its pungent aroma. Its spikes of blue-purple blossoms add dramatic lines to the landscape. With a compact form and a height of one to two feet, you can also use lavender to create a band of colour and texture.
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Near trees

Perennials can be planted at any time, but spring and fall are the best times as this allows the plants to settle and grow new roots before the dry summer weather arrives. If you're planting perennials near trees, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Firstly, remember that the top 6-10 inches of soil near trees is a competitive zone for nutrients and water. To help your perennials establish deeper roots, water less frequently but allow the water to penetrate more deeply into the soil. This will encourage the roots to grow towards the moisture. For the first 2-3 years, provide a lot of excess water and plant food to help the plants establish a strong root network.

When it comes to choosing perennials to plant near trees, opt for those with deep roots that can grow below the surface root competition. Some perennials that thrive in these conditions include:

  • Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla): This plant produces heart-shaped leaves with contrasting white veining and sky-blue flowers in the spring. It slowly forms a colony of plants that can be used to populate the landscape under the tree.
  • Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense): Native to North America, wild ginger is a ground cover that thrives with little care. It has attractive heart-shaped foliage and is deer-resistant.
  • Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis): This tough little plant has a sweet spring fragrance and delicate bell-shaped flowers. It is a formidable ground cover that can quickly fill in blank spots in the garden, including thin, hard soil under established trees.
  • Bleeding Heart (Dicentra): Dicentra plants provide textural interest with their finely divided leaves and pendulous pink heart-shaped blooms. In hot weather areas, they can go dormant, so consider adding a bird bath as a placeholder during this time.
  • Foam Flowers (Tiarella cordifolia): This native plant blooms for six weeks in the spring and then spreads by runners to form an attractive clump of lobed leaves with red veins. Foam flowers appreciate moisture, so if the tree canopy is dense, irrigate the plants with an inch of water per week.
  • Hostas: Hostas are versatile and come in various sizes, colours, and leaf shapes. They are drought-tolerant but will achieve their greatest potential with plenty of water.
  • Periwinkle (Vinca minor): Periwinkle is an aggressive plant that provides excellent erosion control, making it ideal for areas under trees where the soil is always washing away. It grows in dense shade and produces pretty blue flowers late in the spring.
  • Japanese Painted Fern: This fern adds a unique touch to your garden with its silver and pink fronds. It thrives in shade and regular moisture, and a layer of mulch will help suppress weeds and conserve moisture.

By choosing the right perennials and providing adequate water and nutrients, you can create a beautiful and harmonious landscape under your trees.

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Perennial Flowers: Planting And Care (8)

In a wildflower meadow

Wildflower meadows are a great option for gardeners who love nature and want to support pollinators. They are also beneficial for bees and other at-risk pollinators under pressure from habitat loss and pesticides. They create vibrant mini-ecosystems that provide food and shelter for songbirds, insects and other creatures.

  • Choose an area with full sun and good drainage. Get your soil tested to determine the organic matter content and pH level so you can add any necessary amendments.
  • Wildflowers generally prefer low-fertility sites, but many can still thrive in low-fertility soils and with as little as half a day of sun.
  • If you're converting your lawn into a wildflower meadow, remove your turf before planting wildflowers. One method is soil solarization, which involves covering your lawn with black plastic for six to eight weeks to kill the grass. Then loosen the soil to help root development, sow the seeds, and level the ground with a rake.
  • When selecting plant species, keep in mind that a wildflower meadow is a complex, interactive plant community, not just a collection of individuals. Choose a mixture of native species that will naturally sort themselves out over time; the species best adapted to the site will be the ones that thrive after the first few years.
  • Include a variety of native grasses in your meadow, as they provide support and protection for tall flowers, fill in spaces that would otherwise be occupied by weeds, add colour and texture to the landscape, prevent soil erosion, and provide food and cover for wildlife.
  • Fall is generally the best time to plant wildflowers, as it provides the conditions necessary to break seed dormancy and induces germination in warm, wet spring weather.
  • When planting, ensure that the seeds are in good contact with the soil, as this helps them retain moisture, which is necessary for germination and provides a substrate for seedling growth.
  • Hand-broadcasting is the simplest method for planting wildflower seeds. Mixing the seeds with fine, damp sand in a proportion of four parts sand to one part seed can help eliminate clumping. After seeding, rake or tamp the seeds into the soil to ensure good seed-soil contact.
  • Be prepared to wait a couple of seasons to see significant growth in your wildflower meadow.
  • Once established, your wildflower meadow will need less maintenance and water than a traditional lawn, and you can ditch the chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
  • Keep in mind that wildflower meadows may look more unkempt than traditional lawns, which can create friction with neighbours and potentially violate Homeowners Association (HOA) rules and municipal regulations. Educating those around you about the natural benefits of wildflower meadows can help change attitudes.
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Frequently asked questions

Perennials can be planted anywhere in your garden, but it is important to consider the amount of sunlight the area receives. Perennials typically require full sun, part sun, or shade.

Yes, perennials can also be grown in containers. However, make sure to choose a container that is large enough for the plant's root system and provides adequate drainage.

The best times to plant perennials are spring or fall. This allows the plants to establish themselves before the extreme weather conditions of summer or winter.

Perennials grow best in well-drained soil that has been amended with organic matter or compost.

Yes, many perennials can tolerate partial shade. Some examples include hostas, astilbe, and foxglove.

Written by

  • Quentin Holland
    Author

Reviewed by

  • Brianna Velez
    Author Reviewer Gardener

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