Perennials are everybody’s garden favorites because they grow fast and produce in many varieties of size, shape, and color. And if you plan your planting beds properly, you can have color all year long in every season.
Perennials are easy to grow because they are hardy and fairly self-sufficient. However, they require intense maintenance because they grow quickly and can easily get out of control.
It’s easy for perennials to become overgrown, flopping over walkways, competing with other plants, and seeding themselves randomly where they don’t belong. They may even grow so thick that they choke themselves out, leaving your garden in less-than-desirable shape before summer has even hit its stride.
The good news: A garden design professional can help you find creative solutions to this problem. Think of it like decluttering a room or organizing a closet: Some items you keep, some you trash, and some you replace with new. When you’re through, you’ll have an orderly, spacious garden with each perennial in its place.
When Your Perennial Garden Is Overgrown with Success – It’s Time to Clean House
With perennial gardens, you need to periodically clean house to guarantee your plot retains its tidy appearance. Some items may remain exactly where they are, while some may need to be removed and others may be better suited to a different bed or garden area.
Transplanting is a great place to begin – but you must complete this task at the right time of year to ensure your plants survive the disruption, which largely depends on their root system and how they reproduce.
Perennials that rely on seeding to reproduce, such as coreopsis and peonies, prefer to be transplanted in mid-spring as leaves start to emerge.
Perennials with tuberous root systems do best when transplanted in early fall. This group includes dahlias, irises, hellebores, acanthous, and some ferns. This allows these plants to become established before they go into full dormancy for the winter.
Perennials with fibrous root systems include grasses, echinacea (coneflower), rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), liriope, and Shasta daisies. These can be split at the roots and used to populate new beds or even gifted to neighbors. To prevent overgrowth, liriope and grasses should be split every three to five years.
Perennials that produce from bulbs also need to be divided periodically or they will stop flowering. When to do this depends on the type of bulb – daffodils and tulips, for instance, need to be moved right after blooming in late spring or summer.
Keep in mind that you’d rather be looking at plants than dirt and mulch. So be strategic when spreading those transplants around the garden and filling in the “blank” spots. Regularly performing this maintenance task helps you to more quickly achieve the effect of fullness we like to see in an established garden.
All Perennials are Different
When you are planning a perennial bed, be sure to consider each plant’s longevity. Coreopsis, for example, is a short-lived perennial with a life expectancy of three years, but a peony can live for up to 50 years.
A landscape professional with horticultural expertise can help maintain your perennials with finesse and prevent them from becoming overgrown. Because not all perennials are alike, some knowledge and research are required for optimal upkeep.
Knowledgeable Perennial Maintenance is Essential
To take a closer look at the importance of knowledgeable perennial care and garden maintenance, consider a prairie grass bed. In the spring, these grasses grow about 18 inches, then produce seed heads that shoot up an additional 18 inches – and they are magnificent while in bloom.
But once the flowers have stopped blooming the grasses start to fall over, becoming a matted, shapeless mess. Trimming the seed heads can allow the grassy part of the plant to stand up straight again and appear lush and green as opposed to slouching on top of each other.
This maintenance technique actually assists the plant to do something that it does naturally. It wants to drop the seeds heads to the soil, so you’re helping it achieve that goal while improving its appearance aesthetically.
Another example involves Russian sage, which can grow very tall in hot, wet weather. The plant produces majestic flowers that can become top-heavy. And a sustained, intense rain may cause them to collapse under their own weight. Offer this plant some support and keep it standing tall by staking or tying it.
Peonies also have massive, weighty blossoms that can benefit from cages or other types of support. The goal is to gently lift the blooms so they are spilling evenly over the support structure instead of lying on the ground and turning an unsightly brown.
Even ornamental grasses can benefit from some light maintenance. When these perennials get tall they tend to fall across the edges of your walkway, which softens the edges nicely. But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing – that’s when your grasses get in the way and you end up stepping on them. Shearing them lightly from the bottom up can remove some of their bulk and help them stand up straighter.
The Art of a Natural-Looking Garden
One of the reasons modern homeowners love perennials is because they look so natural. They really look like they belong in the landscape if properly designed. The idea that perennials need intense maintenance, however, may strike you as odd because one reason we plant them is to achieve a spontaneous natural effect in the garden. But don’t forget that gardening is an art, which means a bit of artifice is necessary to achieve that oh so “natural” look.
Just like your garden needs a little help to look its best, sometimes the gardener needs a bit of guidance as well. Investing in the services of a trained horticultural professional can give you the knowledge you need to keep your perennials groomed and thriving for years to come.
Are you wondering how to bring out the fullest expression in your landscape and gardens? Our eBook: Choosing the Right Kind of Landscape Maintenance Firm, is full of valuable information to help you understand the fundamental differences between landscape maintenance companies.
Unless otherwise credited, all images used in this article are ©Morgan Howarth Photography.