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.
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 of choosing 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 which lasts well into autumn. 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 perennials 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 because the roots remain alive.
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 blooms of many herbs such as lavender, mints, monarda and tansy. 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 give me the bright reds that hummingbirds love.
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. 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 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. Those purchased in a nursery are often one to two years old and ready to bloom.
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 fertilizer 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. 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 too, if you choose a good source. Remember to make sure the writer lives in a climate similar to yours.
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!
Lorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email Lorraine@tripleoaks.com for garden help or leave your questions below! www.tripleoaks.com