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Perennial Planting Guide
Step by step instructions on how to plant your bare root or potted perennials when they arrive.
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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.
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 plant product page on AmericanMeadows.com There is plenty of detail on each plant's page.
For example, if you're planting peony roots, remember peonies make large plants and like rich soil. Be sure the soil is rich and deep for each one. If you're planting yarrows or lavender, remember these plants absolutely have to have drier conditions in wide open full sun. (See below for more details below for particular plant needs before you begin.)
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.
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.
The right plant in the wrong place. Perennials fall into several large groups when it comes to the proper spot for planting. Below are over-simplified, but helpful groupings to follow.
Of course, you can invest a lot of hard work in changing the character of the soil in your garden. Add compost to make the soil richer. Add sand or gravel to make it drain more quickly. But why? The soil you have is probably fine. The key is to put each plant in the spot where the soil is just right for that plant.
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, drier 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.
Consider the groups below "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.
Some perennials that do best in rich soil, with plenty of moisture throughout the season. These are the classic perennial plants that enjoy "good garden soil."
Some perennials that 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.
Most of these perennials can withstand full sun, but also do well in areas that are shaded part of the day.
Here, simply apply common sense. Basically, perennials need water at least every two weeks. If rain doesn't supply it, it's up to you.
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 better yet, 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 double your success with the plant over the years to come.
All good gardeners depend on a book or two — or now on the internet — for reference. Any good Perennial Encyclopedia, or websites like the excellent Floridata have great detail on any plant. But there are some that stand out with their needs. Here are a few:
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.
Don't try to avoid staking certain plants. If you're growing delphiniums, it's absolutely necessary; they'll never last through wind and rain if you don't. Peonies, too, 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. Believe me, it's worth it. You don't want to see your beautiful peony flowers in the mud! (Gardeners Supply has a great selection of stakes for all kinds of plants.)