My love affair with perennials started way back when I was a girl growing up in Southern California. My mom always kept a garden and I loved seeing her perennials blossom every year.
Once my husband and I moved to Utah, I was eager to have flower beds of my very own to fill with perennials! There’s something even more special about growing perennials here in Utah, because unlike back in California, our harsh winters here force perennials into an annual hibernation.
But once the snow melts, perennials literally spring back to life with beautiful blossoms that last throughout the summer. And now that I have established perennials of my own, it’s something I look forward to with great anticipation every year!
In fact, not only do they “come back” every year, but they always come back a little bit bigger and better than the year before!. For instance, I planted peonies by our front door a few years ago, and I swear they’ve tripled in overall size and number of blooms since I planted it.
That’s just the magic of perennials—you plant them once, and then get to enjoy them year after year! And since spring is right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about planting some in your own outdoor spaces, and that’s what today’s post is going to be all about.
The Ultimate Guide To Growing Perennials
Choosing The Right Plants
While hydrangeas are probably my favorite perennial, I have MANY others varieties planted around my home, including purple coneflowers, peonies, delphiniums, and Shasta daisies. Other popular perennials include:
- Bleeding heart
- Fox glove
While your own personal flower preference will be a factor in deciding which perennials you want to plant, it’s not the first thing you should consider. The very first thing you should do is research which perennials grow well in your particular location and climate.
For that information, your state’s extension service is an invaluable resource. Whenever I have gardening questions relating to our arid climate or high elevation here in Utah, I know I can count on the Utah State University Extension to have the answers I need! (You can find the link to your state’s extension service here.)
Once you know you which perennials are most likely to thrive where you live, you can start considering other factors like bloom time and expected lifespan. Some species only bloom for two weeks each year, while others may bloom over two or three months.
Lifespans vary as well, and “short-lived” perennials like lupines and delphinium may only last around three or four years. Other perennials may live as long as fifteen years (or even a lifetime in the case of peonies!)
When purchasing perennials (especially as a newbie), it’s a good idea to get the largest, most mature plant your budget will allow. Because the bigger the plant is to begin with, the more quickly it will be able to establish itself and the sooner it will begin blooming!
Plants are typically available in pots ranging from 3 to 12 inches in diameter. You can plant pot-grown perennials from spring through fall with minimal transplant shock.
If you plan to buy plants via mail-order, be aware that some companies ship their plants bareroot (as in without any soil). Bareroot perennials are usually only available in early spring when the plants are still dormant, and their roots need to be kept moist to prevent them from drying out.
(Curious about seeds? I personally prefer pot-grown plants instead of seeds, just because seeds take so much longer to grow. But for those of you who do want to start plants by seed, do so in a “nursery bed” rather than in your flower garden. They won’t look like much until the second year anyway, and a nursery bed will make it easier to keep an eye on how they’re performing.)
In-Ground & Raised Beds
Before planting, prepare your planting bed by loosening and turning under the soil to a depth of about 8 inches. Level the soil with a rake, and be sure to remove any large clumps of grass or stones you come across.
At this point, you may want to take the time to test the pH of your soil to make sure it’s a suitable environment for perennials. Most perennials prefer soil with a pH of about 6.5, though certain plants prefer slightly more alkaline or acidic conditions. (If you want to hold off on pH testing, you can always use it as a troubleshooting measure for struggling plants down the road.)
When you’re ready to plant, dig a hole slightly larger than the pot, then remove the plants from the pots and loosen up the roots with your fingers. Sprinkle some good, rich compost into the hole, then place the plant so that the top of the potting soil is level with the surrounding soil. Fill the hole around the plant with soil, then water the plant in thoroughly.
Adding a layer of mulch around your perennials can help protect them by preventing evaporation, which is especially important during the bright, hot days of summer.
I usually reserve my flower pots for annuals, but it’s perfectly possible to plant perennials in pots, too! Just fill your pots with good quality potting soil, leaving about 3 inches between the top of the soil and the rim of the pot.
Settle your perennial in the soil, fill in any gaps with more potting soil, then give it a good watering. Keep newly planted perennials well watered for the first few weeks, saturating the entire root ball to help establish good contact between the roots and the surrounding soil.
Care And Maintenance Tips
Aside from keeping them well watered, there are a few other things you can do to help your perennials thrive, like staking, pinching, and deadheading. Staking is a way to provide structural support to tall or weak-stemmed plants, such as delphiniums and hybrid lilies, but shorter plants can also benefit from additional support.
Bamboo canes work well for staking individual stems, while wire support rings are a good option for entire plants. For best results, stake your perennials in early spring so the plants can camouflage the supports as they grow.
Some kinds of perennials, including asters, chrysanthemums, phlox, and salvias, benefit from being “pinched back,” which involves removing the growing tips once or twice during late spring. Pinching encourages bushier plants that are need less support and produce more blooms. (But not all perennials should be pinched, so be sure to find out what’s best for your specific plants.)
And finally, there’s deadheading. Removing spent flowers and dead blooms not only keeps your plants looking their best, but it often stimulates reblooming too. Once their bloom time is over, some plants should be shorn rather than deadheaded, including creeping phlox, nepeta, hardy geraniums, daisies, pinks, and lavender.
Most perennials are easy to overwinter, both in-ground plants and potted ones. They don’t require very much by the way of pruning, but they will benefit from having a thick layer of mulch to insulate them against the cold winter temperatures.
Potted perennials should be stored in your garage over the winter months, and should be lightly watered since they won’t receive water from snow or rain. When springtime returns, remove the mulch layer and move them back outside for another season of beautiful blossoms.
What are your favorite perennials?