Whether you garden in a pot or a plot, it is time to take notice and give the plants one last feeding if you do not already have time-release fertilizer on the plants. Clip or deadhead blooming plants so they will continue to flower. Trim back vegetables if they need it and plant some fall crops. Sprinkle seeds of lettuce, parsley, dill, other greens and even radishes for a cool weather garden this fall. My vegetable garden is my favorite outdoor spot and we all spend hours there each day if possible.
Real gardeners love all types of plants. They appreciate the coolness of shade trees and the winter hues of evergreens. They love the colorful blooms of spring flowering shrubs and the fragrance of lilac, roses, mock orange and swamp magnolia. They plant masses of vibrant annuals each spring as well as tomatoes and other vegetables to feed the family. They love the challenge to choose reliable, colorful perennials that will come up each year with dependable consistency. These best fill in a bed to look like an old-fashion cottage garden with color throughout the spring, summer and fall. A few perennials like Amsonia have golden foliage for a long time in fall. Others, like hellebores – the Christmas and Lenten roses – are evergreen with dark shiny foliage all year long.
There are perennial wild flowers and ferns that can create a woodland setting in shady or woodsy areas. There are colorful plants that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds and there are some perennials that bloom very early as well as some that bloom very late or even in winter. Although most perennials die back and disappear each winter they come back each spring. The root remains alive.
At the peak of spring there are poppy, iris, peony, anemone, wood phlox, lily-of-the-valley and mountain pinks in bloom. These old favorites are such signs of spring that most people recognize them.
Later in summer the number of blooming perennials is so large that even seasoned gardeners find new ones all the time. There are so many daisies that you can have them in white, red or pink, yellow, orange and many other assorted colors. Try Shasta daisy for white. Painted daisy for pink or red. Black-eyed Susan for gold. Gaillardia for shades of red and yellow and Echinacea for lavender, white, shades of orange, peach and coral. There are the lilies of summer as well as the blooms of many herbs such as lavender, mints, monarda. Don’t forget Yucca or prickly pear cacti for sunny dry spots. I love the dependability of yarrow in many colors, phlox, Cardinal flower and salvia.
Perennials can sometimes take over an area so it is a good idea to thin them every few years if they seem to be spreading too much. Always do this very early in the spring while they are still dormant. Mark where they are and remove clumps of roots. You can plant them in another spot or trade with another gardener.
Perennials need food to bloom. Prepare the soil well when planting. It is always a good idea to mix in some compost if you have it. High organic content in soils is a key to building a great perennial garden. I do not mulch them heavily since I like most to reseed. My black-eyed Susans, sweet Cecily, and even Christmas roses reseed. When there are a lot of plants in a bed it is important to feed them well. My husband usually feeds everything in the yard each spring with a handful of 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 granular ‘brown bag’ generic fertilizers. Then I fine tune by putting a scoop or two of my favorite time-release osmocote 14-14-14 (green cap) so they continue to bloom. Compost works best so be generous with it too. Remember that it is the middle number, the phosphate that increases bloom. Too much nitrogen (first number) makes lots of beautiful leaves but sparse blooms. We let the leaves stay in the beds all winter; this sure seems to protect the plants in a natural way.
To dead head or not to dead head, that is the question! Some people ask, “What is dead heading?” It is simply cutting off the dead blooms. I usually do this early in the season to encourage more bloom. It is often good to let some go to seed later so that more plants will grow. Seeds drop once they are ripe and fall naturally from the pods. The plants usually come up in mid summer and grow until next season when they bloom. Perennial seedlings grow for a year until they bloom. Ones purchased in a nursery are often one to two years old and ready to bloom.
Almost any time is a good time to prepare a perennial garden or to add a few plants to other plantings. Be sure that you find the right plant for each spot. Find out how much sun your gardens have and find the plant that will do best. A sun plant needs sun between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. for lots of blooms.
Just like some perennials need sun and well-drained soil for success some need more water or moisture in the soil than others. An example would be the difference between lavender and monarda. Lavender, one of the oldest and favorite perennials of all needs a hot, sunny well-drained site. It does not need a lot of fertilize and even has less fragrance and fewer blooms when over fed. Monarda, with its large red humming bird magnet blooms, can tolerate quite a bit of moisture and will grow in sun or shade. A native cactus prickly pear is a wonderful perennial for a hot, dry spot where few others will grow. It is important to read about each perennial before making a choice. A good nursery should be able to guide you. A perennial book will help and the Internet will do as well, if you choose a good source. Remember too to make sure the writer lives in a similar climate as you do.
The lists of perennials are very, very long. It is often a good idea to look at perennials each month in a local nursery or at a botanical garden. Choose ones you like and plant them near each other so you have something blooming all during the season.
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Do you have a gardening question? Ask Lorraine in the comments section below!