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How to Care for Perennials


Flowers that come up year after year are called perennials. They remain in place, undisturbed for several, sometimes many years. Many perennial flower species require division on a three or four-year cycle.

Because they are semi-permanent, perennials require less maintenance than annuals. Annual flower bed preparation is eliminated. Perennial plants greet us each spring, unprompted by human hands so it is very easy to learn how to care for perennials.

Soil preparation is the most important task in establishing a perennial garden. Soil in the flower bed should be loose and well-drained. Fall preparation is best. Organic matter can be spaded in and the soil left in clumps. Alternate freezing and thawing in winter will break down any clods. A soil test will show the basic fertility level and should be done before you plant.

Most perennial flowers die to the ground each fall, but their roots remain alive. Vigorous plants can successfully compete with weeds in early spring. Some precautions against weed invasion include the use of mulches and pre-emergence herbicides. If weeds do become a problem, they can be difficult to control. Perennials are available as seed or as established plants.

Seed normally is started in containers indoors or planted directly outside after danger of frost has passed. Plants grown in peat pots may be planted pot and all after slicing the sides of the pot and removing its top rim. Other types of containers must be removed.

If the soil ball has masses of roots around the outside, make a shallow vertical slice in several places. This should stop the tendency of roots to grow around the perimeter in an overlapping circle, girdling the plant. Varieties should be planted in masses which look “scattered” and blend with other masses.

Do not plant perennials in straight rows. Plant at the same level they grew in the container. Firm the soil around the soil ball but do not pack it. Water immediately. For the first couple of years, all that is needed to care for perennials is insect and weed control and normal watering. Thereafter, supplemental fertilizer may be needed in early spring.

Application of two to three pounds of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet should be sufficient. Broadcast the fertilizer and water it into the soil thoroughly. Make sure none remains on the foliage.

Perennial plants are listed by the northernmost hardiness zone in which they can survive. Look for zone 5 plants. Consider also the hot Kansas summers. Unfortunately, most catalogs and books do not mention this problem. Experimenting with new perennial flowers to grow in this area can be a lifelong hobby. The following list is just a few of the popular perennials: Bearded iris, yarrow, shasta daisy, creeping phlox, peony, hardy chrysanthemum, sedum, day lily, alyssum, yucca, columbine, foxglove, silver mound, butterfly flower, pinks, poppy, hosta, gayfeather, salvia and black-eyed Susan.

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