A Perennial Dilemma

Perennials are wonderful gifts of nature – you plant them today, sit back, and enjoy them for years.  If planned properly, a perennial garden will bloom from April through November.  So, let’s say you’ve planted your very first beautifully planned perennial garden last year.  The winter has now passed, there’s spring in the air and in your step, and you head out to your garden to find…………

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The Lenten Rose is one of the first bloomers, and usually comes out with the daffodils. The previous year’s foliage has not yet been cleared away.

A brown, mushy, rotting mess.  Now what?

Very often, the novice perennial owner is never told what to expect between the time the last bloom fades in the fall and the new growth begins in the spring.  There are also differing opinions as to when to cut back dead growth, whether it should be whacked back at the end of the season or before the next season begins.  Numerous websites and professionals can tell you the optimal time to cut back, prune, fertilize and water your perennial garden.  It is all good advice, but remember – even though most of it is based on science and experience, that’s all it is.  Advice.

Plants are like people.  We are all human, but based upon our nationalities, our race, our specific family genes and our environment, we are all unique.  We have different characteristics which fall into several categories, but within those categories, we are still individuals.  So, too, are plants.  A perennial will exhibit the basic characteristics of its species, but the genetic makeup of the original plant, the environment in which it is planted, the maintenance of the plant throughout the growing season as well as its overall health at the time of planting all play a part in how well, or how poorly, a perennial will survive in your garden.

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The Bleeding Heart is also an early riser. Once they start growing, they grow very large and can take over the space if not pruned back.

This blog will be the first of many perennial maintenance articles that will follow my personal perennial garden throughout the season, from winter clean up, to first bloom, through summer splendor and end of season maintenance.  Now that we are finally out from under snow cover, it’s time to introduce you to the joy that a perennial garden can bring.

This will probably sound silly, but your perennials will benefit greatly from your personal relationship with them.  Get to know each plant, make the time to understand the conditions each plant is living under, and make adjustments throughout the season.  Once you address the personal needs of each plant, your garden will take flight.  It is far better to take the time initially to address the needs of your garden than to spend hours upon hours every growing season trying to figure out why things aren’t growing well, again.

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This is what the garden looks like now, after the winter. No maintenance has been done yet due to late snowfall. Horizon Landscape also installed the patio and seat wall.

Perennials are, for the most part, extremely low maintenance, which is why they are so desirable for busy people who just want to enjoy a beautiful, color filled garden at the end of a long workday or on a rare lazy weekend.  I have had a garden at my home for 22 years.  The previous owners had a few rose bushes planted alongside the house, and since I adore the magnificent rose, I decided to turn the area into a rose garden.  After 20 years of constant maintenance in the form of pruning, pest control, feeding and watering, and upon becoming a rose expert, not on how to grow them, but on how NOT to grow them, I gave up and planted perennials, with a few roses thrown in as focal points.  My roses still are not growing as well as the perennials, so I may be ditching them for a low-maintenance Knock-Out variety this year.  If I do, you’ll be the first to know.

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This is my garden in all its summer glory. The hydrangeas along the back of the house are also in bloom, and the entrance of the garden room has been supplemented with annual Impatiens. (And thanks to Franklin, our Yorkie-Poo puppy, for helping ‘water’ the garden….and for the lawn ‘thatching’, lower left.)

Here is a list of the lovelies that call my garden home:  ligularia, lenten rose, columbine, 3 varieties of clematis, bleeding hearts, chrysanthemums, 3 varieties of heuchera, butterfly bush, echinacea, 3 rose varieties, catmint, shasta daisies, sage, gaura, dwarf daylillies, perennial geraniums and coreopsis. (whew!)  With the amount of plants I just listed, you would think my garden is tremendous, but it isn’t.  It occupies three 4′ x 10′ planting beds surrounding a small paver patio, and believe it or not, because they push foliage and bloom at different times throughout the spring, they don’t overpower each other.  After they bloom, I cut them back just enough to maintain the shape of the beds, and they remain lush all season with very little additional maintenance.

Because of the diversity of my perennial varieties, I am not going to go into any specifics here, or you’ll be reading until next week.  Instead, I will tackle each plant in depth as it begins its rebirth, and in the meantime if you get the itch to start cleaning up from the winter, I will leave you with this advice – only cut away the foliage that is dead, dried up, or has turned to mush until you see how the plant is going to push new growth.  Trim carefully – you can always cut back more later, but you can’t put it back.  And if you cut back too far too soon, you may lose the plant completely.  This will allow you to at least get the garden looking respectable until it returns to its former glory.  And as always, if you have any questions, we’re here to help.