Stephanie Cohen is a contributing writer for State-by-State Gardening

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Putting Perennials in Their Place: Integrating Them into the Garden
by Stephanie Cohen       #Advice

Where do perennials belong in your garden? The answer for me is everywhere. First of all I am known as “The Perennial Diva,” and I practice what I preach.

You know about beds and borders so will cover them last. My favorite spot for perennials is containers, because they not only add color, texture and form, but they have the advantage of staying in a frost-free pot for the entire winter. Annuals or tropicals bite the dust and need to be dumped into the compost pile or potted up to be taken into the house, and then many of them die.

In the fall, if the perennials have outgrown the pot you can divide them and put half of the division in the garden and half back into the pot. This is an economical way to gain extra plants. Most perennials need only 6 weeks to establish roots. Just make sure the pots are deep enough to fit the roots without bending or squishing them in. The same thing can be done with window boxes, but you need much smaller plants that have smaller roots. This may sound odd to you, but I planted about 20 perennials from pots in early fall into the garden.

If I want to use the same plants in pots I divide them in the spring. Most of my pots are large and glazed and I would hate to see them crack. Too many cracked pots are a disaster, in more ways than one.

Another great way to use perennials is in your foundation panting. Many gardeners just have evergreens. This look reminds me of plastic flowers because it never changes. To make matters worse, some gardeners pile mulch in vast quantities around them. The mulch volcano look is definitely bad for the shrubs and it is out of style. Here is a dandy place to put flowering perennials or ground covers. If you choose your perennials to flower from spring to fall, you have color throughout the seasons. If you like the ground cover idea, choose low-growing perennials that provide texture and color to form a tapestry of ground covers. If you mulch between these plants 2 inches is plenty. Don’t get the mulch in the crowns of the perennials, as it tends to rot the plants. This approach also gives you a choice of lots of plants for both shade and sun. If you are a professional, remember there is more to life than ivy and pachysandra!

For those of you with small gardens, the newest thing is to put hardy perennial herbs right into the border. They need the same light, soil and water requirements. The advantage of this is many herbs have beautiful colors and scents. The other advantage is herbs with fragrance or hairy leaves tend to keep the deer away. This also allows children, who often want something to pick, to cut and harvest the herbs.

Rock gardens and troughs use hardy alpine perennials and small perennials in a charming way. I use lots of miniature sedums and small creeping plants in exactly this way. If you get into this style of gardening, you will find many perennials leading double lives, because many of these plants are good for the front of the perennial border.

Generally most people want the long English borders they see in books and magazines. Don’t try this unless you have lots of time or gardeners. Start small, because you can always expand. Another way is to cut out sections of turf and make island beds. The advantage of this is you can plant, weed and water from all sides.

Here are some good rules for jumping into perennial gardening. Look for plants that have a long season of bloom. Don’t be tempted by one-week wonders unless they have great foliage. Some perennials rebloom, and that gives you more than one season of color. Look for plants that tend to be known as disease and pest free. Look for plants that are not thugs and will run around your garden with impunity. Beware of neighbors or friends who tell you to take something because it grew too fast or they have so much of it. Ask questions from your local nursery or professional help about which plants are easy to grow. Most perennials take a season or two to reach their maximum size. Be patient and they will get bigger.

If you kill something, don’t panic or quit. I personally subscribe to the baseball theory of perennial gardening — three strikes and you’re out. Anything that I have killed three times is banished from my garden. I do not look at this as a failure, but as a golden opportunity to get more plants.

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Cohen.


Posted: 04/07/14   RSS | Print


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