When Your Perennials Arrive
Whether you're setting out potted perennials or planting bare-root plants, there are steps you can take to help your plants get established quickly, so they can grow to their full potential.
Here are some guidelines.
- Open the box immediately, protect from cold, and water each potted plant. Some of your potted plants may have new green growth, some may not. If you see no leaves, don't worry; this is normal. The roots in the pot are healthy and ready to grow in your garden.
- Plant as soon as you can. If your weather cooperates (above freezing), begin planting as soon as possible. If not, keep your perennials where they get some sun through a window, and keep potted plants moist, not soggy. Leave bareroot plants in their packaging, but if they are dry, moisten.
- Not ready to dig in? We have tips for that! Learn More: How To Care For Bulbs & Perennials If You Can’t Plant Right Away
See our tips for getting started with your new plants:
Watch: Unpacking Your Perennials
Planting Potted Perennials
As you set out your potted plants, dig to loosen the soil around and below the actual spot, and then set the rooted plant at the same level if was growing in the pot. When you remove the plant from the pot, do not pull on the leaves or stems. Squeeze the pot a little and the roots and soil will slide out for you. Water well after planting, and continue to water at least every two weeks, depending on rainfall.
Planting Bareroot Perennials
For each of these, simply loosen the soil around and below the spot you've chosen, and then set the root at the same soil level it grew in the nursery — all roots below ground, and the green top above. Water well after planting, and continue regular watering, depending on rainfall. Also, be patient. The plants have to adapt to their new home. Some plants take two weeks or more to show growth.
Right Plant, Right Place: Soil, Sun & Shade
Before setting plants out, be sure the spots you've chosen are good for the perennials you're planting. If you have questions about whether your plants demand full sun or can withstand partial shade, how tall the plant will grow, or other details, please consult the planting information on each product page on our website. (Search the name of the plant in the search box at the top of this page!) You can also visit The Tool Shed for our helpful planting guides.
For example, if you're planting bareroot peonies, remember peonies mature into large plants and like rich soil, so be sure the soil is rich and deep for each one. Or, if you're planting yarrow or lavender, remember these plants absolutely have to have drier conditions in wide open full sun.
Of course, you can invest a lot of hard work in changing the character of the soil in your garden, adding compost to make the soil richer, or adding sand or gravel to make it drain more quickly. However, when you choose the right plants for your soil, the soil you have will probably be fine!
Every perennial garden has areas that vary in conditions. For example, you may have areas in your garden that are rich deep soil with good, but not quick, drainage; these are the spots with rich, dark soil that is almost always moist. Plants like peonies, daylilies and astilbes love these spots. Then there are usually the hot, dry spots. Maybe the soil is more gravelly here, and the area is a little raised, so drainage is extra-sharp, and the whole area is in the hot, baking sun all summer. Plants like yarrows, lavenders, and echinaceas are very happy here.
The groups below make good companion plants, since each group enjoys the same basic garden conditions. Of course, consider these groupings "rules of thumb," since there are no hard and fast rules. Also, many plants are adaptable and appear in more than one group.
A. The Deep Rich Soil Group
|Clematis Vines||Hardy Geranium||Poppies|
B. The Hot, Dry, Gravelly Soil Group
Some perennials demand more arid conditions, with quick-draining loose soil and full sun all season long. Many of these plants are originally from the prairie or desert-like areas, so need dry conditions.
Watering: Not Too Much, Not Too Little
Perennials generally need water at least every two weeks, so if rain doesn't supply it, it's up to you. In the first season, perennials may need supplemental water to establish healthy roots. It's generally best to water deeply, and less frequently, rather that watering lightly and often; this helps perennials establish deep and resilient roots.
As your plants grow, you'll get to know their characteristics. There's no secret to all this — just observe them closely. If you see good growth, it usually means that plant is "happy" in the spot you chose for it, and your watering is about right. On the other hand, if certain plants stubbornly sit there and do nothing, or even worse, seem to start withering away, you need to take action.
A dryland plant like Yarrow or Lavender will begin suffering quickly if you're watering it too much. And likewise, moisture-lovers like daylilies or spiderworts will begin withering the same way if they're not getting the water they need. When you see this happening, you have two choices: Either adjust the watering for the plants that are showing stress, or dig up the whole plant with plenty of soil and move it to a new spot that's more to its liking. If you do that when your perennials are young, it's almost no work, and it can improve your success with the plant over the years to come.
Special Plants Need Special Care
All good gardeners depend on a book or two for reference, in addition to the helpful resource you can find online! Some plants stand out with their needs. Here are a few helpful tips:
Clematis Vines is the elegant flowering vine everyone loves. They are easy to grow, but not always easy to establish. They like their roots in the shade, but must grow up into full sun to bloom. This isn't difficult…just plant some annual flowers over the root and they will provide the shade. The other thing to know is that clematis shoots, when they appear from a newly planted vine are extremely brittle. Protect them, since if they break off, your young vine may not be able to produce new ones.
Tree Peonies represent substantial investments, and aren't really difficult at all. But be sure to give yours a good spot with deep, rich soil, and enough space to grow into a small tree shape in full sun. (Flowering demands full sun.)
All Peonies take time, but they're worth it since once established, they will bloom beautifully for a lifetime. Site them carefully with deep rich soil and full sun. Be patient, since they must develop their large carrot-type roots to become mature and increase in size. They are "heavy feeders," so fertilize them at least twice a year.
Tall Garden Phlox are famous for two things. Their incredible beauty as one of your garden's top color makers. And powdery mildew. Mildew, a dusty white film, attacks almost all of the tall phlox group except the famous mildew-resistant white one, "David."
All the books tell you that air circulation may prevent it, but don't you believe it. Be ready in mid-summer, with some fungicide available at any garden center for phlox mildew. Yes, it's trouble, but absolutely worth it. After you've waited for your phlox to grow into tall healthy plants loaded with buds, you don't want to sacrifice it all to mildew. It doesn't kill the plants, but it makes them so ugly, you'll want to kill them if you don't take action once it starts. Preventing it is simply part of perennial gardening.
Oriental Poppies are famous for pulling their disappearing act after they bloom. The leaves turn yellow, and just wither away, sort of like tulips and daffodils. And with poppies, it's right in the middle of your garden's glory, in early summer. When that happens, especially after your poppies have made big clumps, be ready. Simply remove the leaves after they're dead, and plant something in the open spaces left by the die-down. A perfect plant for this is impatiens, since they usually enjoy the same conditions as poppies, and fill in the space quickly, then bloom all summer and fall. In northern states, winter kills the impatiens, and in the spring, the wonderful poppy foliage is up early ready to give you magnificent poppy flowers, only to be followed by another die-down which will require another new six-pack of impatiens from the garden center to fill in the spaces.
Staking Tall Plants
Staking tall plants, or plants with large and heavy flowers, is an important step to protect your investment. For example, if you're growing delphiniums, it's absolutely necessary; they'll never last through wind and rain if you don't. Peonies are much better if you use "peony rings," the round stake system you put in place when the plants are just coming up. With most peonies, the flowers are just too big and heavy for the stems to hold up, so they need help. It's worth it! You don't want to see your beautiful flowers in the mud! Our friends at (Gardeners Supply have a great selection of stakes for all kinds of plants.)