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What's Up Magazine

Perennial Gardens

Jul 26, 2011 04:11PM ● By Anonymous

Perennials, plants that bloom every year, are perfect for gardeners who have little time on their hands (nowadays, that seems to encompass the vast majority of us). These easy-to-care-for plants return year after year, providing a permanent addition to your landscape. We’ve asked some local experts to give us their opinions on the perennials that do especially well in Maryland, but first you need to map out your garden.

Planning your Garden
There are several factors to consider before you plant a perennial garden. First, where do you want to plant your garden? Will it be in the shade, full sun, or somewhere in between? Will there be room for your plants to spread out? Is your soil good or do you have to add organic material? What type of perennial garden do you want—a carefree, English cottage look? A shade garden? A cutting garden?

Perennials are relatively low-maintenance the first few years, but will eventually need to be divided and moved as the plants mature. Typically, most perennials bloom for a two to three-week period, so choose plants with interesting foliage to add texture to the garden during the rest of the season, or plant perennials that bloom at different times throughout the year.

Most perennials die back to the ground in the late fall, with a new plant coming up the following spring (the roots don’t die with the tops). Also, perennials are noted for their slow start when newly planted. The old adage is, “The first year they sleep; second year they creep; third year they LEAP!”

As stated, many perennials are one-timeper- season bloomers. However, there are also many exceptions, most notably the Gaillardias or “Blanket Flower,” which bloom a rusty-red, yellow and gold almost continuously the whole summer. They bloom so profusely that they form a blanket of pure color; hence the name. Local nurseries also recommend Echinacea “Secret Lust” with red-orange double flowers that bloom all summer and fall.

How Do I Choose?
Perennial varieties are abundant and selecting just a few can be a bit overwhelming. With that in mind, we’ve tapped our experts for some guidance and recommendations. According to area landscapers and horticulturists, the best-growing perennial plants are usually the native ones. Popular and hardy are Coneflowers (Echinacea), Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), and False Indigo (Baptisia). Other popular perennials include daylilies, salvia, hostas, heucheras, peonies, sedum, and ornamental grasses.

Peonies, with their lush, huge blooms, come in dark and pastel colors, and have a delightful fragrance and long stems for cutting. Heuchera “Electric Lime” sports huge red-veined leaves in cool temperatures; its lime-tinted foliage forms a large mound and has the bonus of beautiful, densely packed, white flowers. Another, Coreopsis “Cherry Lemonade,” dons bright feathery golden foliage long before its gorgeous red flowers arrive. This one blooms and blooms, and grows easily as a low mound. Or try Coreopsis “Ruby Frost,” a perennial that sports large, deep ruby flowers, fringed with a collar of frosty white. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a hardy plant that blooms from June through September, is an extremely popular perennial because, as its name implies, it attracts butterflies.

To brighten up a shady perennial garden, one local nursery owner recommends planting Hakonechloa macra “All Gold.” Grown mainly for its beautiful golden foliage, it also produces reddish brown flowers from late summer through mid-fall.

For winter shade gardens, try the wonderful Winter Jewels™ hellebores series of flowers. These flowers grow beautifully under deciduous trees and come in a large variety of gorgeous hues.

According to our sources, another “must have” perennial is the Bloomerang® lilac, a new lilac shrub that bursts with fragrant purple flowers in spring, again in mid-summer and continues right up until frost. Since it has a compact, full-growth habit with small leaves, it’s the perfect shrub for smaller gardens. For more recommendations, see Planning A Year-round Perennial Garden on the following page.

Caring for Perennials
Proper drainage requirements and preparation of your garden beds with organic matter is critical to the health of your perennials. Before you plant perennials, make sure the area has proper drainage—if not, your perennials may not last. The soil you plant them in should be rich with organic material. If not, add and till compost to the existing soil before planting.

Once planted, perennials are relatively easy to maintain. Most perennials do well with very little fertilizing. Just mulching them with compost every year usually provides them with the necessary supply of nutrients. Many perennials benefit from dead heading (removing the heads of dead or faded flowers), pruning, and cutting back. Some might even produce blooms again later in the season.

Many perennials go completely dormant for the winter—their foliage dies back, but roots stay alive. After they die back, remove or cut back the dead part of the plant. This not only makes your garden look better, it prevents disease and bacteria from forming.

Once you have an established garden, you may have to divide your perennials to keep them from overgrowth and to keep them blooming. Plan on dividing your plants every two to four years.

Follow these garden guidelines and you can enjoy your perennial garden season after season, year after year.