Perennials are undemanding foundation plant material of flower beds. Once established, most perennial plants require little in the way of maintenance and if taken care of, will faithfully return year after year, some living for decades.
The accepted horticulture usage of the term perennial is that of an herbaceous plant that emerges in the spring, grows during the summer months, dies back in the winter, and comes back year after year.
Establishing a perennial garden is not a difficult task but there are a few strategies to consider.
• Timing of perennial planting. Autumn is the best time to establish perennial plants. Soils are warm, which enhances rapid root development; days are sunny and warm but not hot, nights are cooling, favoring shoot growth. Plants should be set into the garden when there remain several weeks of favorable growing conditions. We still have several weeks before our average first freeze, giving gardeners ample time to plant.
• Start with the size and location of the garden. The dimensions of planting space determines how many mature plants will fit. Location determines if plant materials are full sun, full shade, or partial shade plants.
• Provide a focal point. Statuary and fountains make bold focal points. Hard surfaces like fencing, railings, gates, or walkways define boundaries. Dramatic plants like the red hot pokers in the photo provide living focal points in a well-defined space.
• Available water. Decide if plant material is to be drought tolerant for xeric gardens, or lush for mesic gardens. Know in advance how the garden is to be watered. Even drought tolerant plants require water until root systems are established.
• Once water requirements are decided, choose the most reliable plant material for the landscape. There are thousands of perennials from which to choose. Catalogs have page after page of alluring, glossy photos of plants that are tempting to add to the landscape. However, a plant that is gorgeous on the page may be disappointing when it does not survive our unpredictable winters or succumbs to our harsh summers. Know what plants will thrive in a given USDA Hardiness Zone (ars.usda.gov).
• Select a color scheme. A general rule is to mass several of one color in a given area, rather than a hodgepodge of mixed colors. One color gives focus, while, with a mixture of colors the eye dances around looking for something on which to concentrate.
For gardeners who already have an established perennial garden, a few tasks that should be done before our first freeze, like adopting the horticultural strategy of dividing spring and summer blooming perennials in the autumn. Autumn is the best time to divide blooming perennials. Some flowering perennial plant material that grow well in our USDA zone 7: Artemisia, Shasta daisy, Mexican petunia, yarrow, Russian sage, daylilies, iris, and red hot pokers.
Ellen Peffley taught horticulture at the college level for 28 years, 25 of those at Texas Tech, during which time she developed two onion varieties. She is now the sole proprietor of From the Garden, a market garden farmette. You can email her at email@example.com