Buy, Sell, Cherish

How to Create and Care for Perennial Beds

Poppies come in a variety of colors and are hardy in many zones.

What types of plants come back year after year, deter weeds, require little fertilizer, are resistant to disease and pests, are tolerant of their growing conditions and are also beautiful? Perennials. Here is a simple step-by-step guide to filling your garden with these low-maintenance residents.

Step 1: Make a Design Plan

First draw a plan of your existing landscape. Use a ruler and graph paper to draw it to scale. Include everything you don't plan to move or remove, such as your house, garage, trees, bushes and swing sets. Once you have the base plan, start your new design.

Look for inspiration in your neighbors' yards, botanical gardens, in garden magazines, in books and on the Internet. Consider the colors, textures and plant heights you want. You can create a formal style with straight lines and symmetrical beds or a more informal look with curving lines and asymmetrical beds.

Step 2: Choose Plants

Choose your plants before you even enter a nursery. Use your final plan to decide which plants to buy, and how many you need. Consider the growing environments and make notes on each bed's lighting (shade, bright sun, partial sun) and moisture (dry, wet, normal) conditions.

Next, make a list of your favorite perennials and the growing conditions they prefer. Select varieties native to your climate and growing region first, then simply select the perennials on your list that match the climate and conditions of your garden. Place them in the design based on where you want certain heights, colors and textures.

Keep in mind that perennials generally have a single blooming cycle, so you will want to combine your plants to have continual flowering over the summer. Perennials sometimes take several seasons to fill in and spread, so it's all right if it takes a few years for you to acquire all the plants in your plan.

Step 3: Prepare the Beds

With a hose, mark off the beds you've designed and start working the soil. Always make sure you amend the soil before you plant. Have your soil tested at your local extension office to determine what nutrients are missing and what amendments (e.g., peat moss, compost, manure, bone meal) are required.

Prepare your beds by turning over and working the soil at a depth of approximately 8 to 10 inches, adding organic matter as needed. If you have poor soil, consider using raised beds, which can be filled with prepackaged soil that already has the right mix of organic matter.

Bright white daisies can add interest to your garden at dusk.

Step 4: Set a Planting Schedule

Find out the best planting time for each of your plants. Traditionally, younger perennials are purchased and planted in the spring, after the danger of frost passes. Remove any flowers from the plant and dig a hole large enough for the root system. Put the plant in the hole, fill the hole with soil, tamp down the soil and water the plant thoroughly.

Then be patient. Perennials develop root systems first and flower later. Some can take two to three years before they start to flower and spread. However, once perennials take off, they will choke out weeds and require little watering because of their deep root systems.

Also, spring is not the only time to plant. Fall is a great time to plant perennials because they are developing their roots rather than creating blooms.

Step 5: Caring for Perennials

Perennials are among the easiest plants to care for. Here are a few tips:

  • Newly planted perennials need extra care at first, so make sure they receive enough water, and remove weeds until the new plants have acclimated.
  • Consider adding a layer of mulch to keep weeds out.
  • Deadhead your flowering plants to extend flowering time.
  • Stake taller plants to prevent them from falling.
  • For colder climates, consider covering your perennials with a layer of mulch after the tops have died back to the ground so the root systems are insulated.

Step 6: Divide Perennials

Once your plants start to spread and fill in your beds, it is time to divide them. On average, most perennials require dividing every two to three years after becoming established. If you don't divide them, they can crowd themselves out or spread into neighboring plants.

Look at the plant to decide where a good division point would be. The soil should not be too wet or dry before dividing. Once you divide the plant, take the divided portion and either transplant it to another bed or trade or share with neighbors and friends.

Lilies are both colorful and fragrant.

Six Popular Perennials

Here are some popular, easy-care perennials to try in your garden. The hardiness zones given below will tell you in which regions the plant will survive the winter. To find out which zone you are in, ask at your local garden centre or check a garden book or the Internet.

  • Lavender: Famous for its attractive flowers and beautiful fragrance. Hardy in zones 5-9.
  • Daisies: Bloom all summer with flowers in white, purple and yellow. Hardy in zones 4-9.
  • Daylilies: Plants come in almost any size or color including yellow, red, pink or purple. Hardy in zones 3-9.
  • Hostas: Do very well in shade, with new varieties have showy flowers. Hardy in zones 3-9.
  • Poppies: Bright orange flowers. Other varieties include red, yellow, pink, white and purple. Hardy in zones 2-8.
  • Yarrow: A traditional plant with fern-like foliage and bright yellow, pink, white, red and salmon flowers. Hardy in zones 3-9.

Your perennial garden will give you years and years of beauty and pleasure. And remember that its always a work of art in progress: plants can be added and moved along the way.

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