A perennial is a plant that lives for more than two years. Most perennials bloom over the spring and summer, die back every fall and winter and then return in the spring from their rootstock. Here’s how to make sure your perennials pop!
There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for watering perennials. Some varieties tolerate drought and others need to be kept moist all the time. The important thing to remember is to keep them well watered their first year after installation to allow for establishment. For more information on effective watering, see our guide here.
If you have rich soil or supplement it with compost or organic matter on a regular basis, you probably won’t need to fertilize your perennials. If your perennials seem to be struggling, it may be a good idea to test your soil. Local nurseries have soil test kits that can help determine the acidity of your soil. If you decide you need to fertilize, they can also help you decide on a product that matches your soils needs.
One easy way to make your plants look better is simply cutting off the faded flowers. Many perennials respond to this by putting out more blooms! This is called deadheading and beyond just making your plants look better, it prevents them from setting seed. The best technique is to pinch or cut the flower stems just above the first set of healthy leaves. Removing the dead blooms will redirect the plant’s energy into creating more flowers. Keeping up with deadheading will enhance your plant’s beauty as well as health! While this is true for many plants, it can be more harmful to others which need the dead blooms to re-seed. Be careful to not deadhead Hollyhock, Foxglove, Lobelia (Cardinal Flower) and Myosotis (Forget-Me-Not).
One of the best things about perennials is that they grow bigger and better each year. But many will start to crowd themselves out if they get too big. The increased competition for water, light and nutrients can weaken the entire planting. Keep them performing well by digging them out of the ground and splitting them into smaller chunks every three to four years. Early spring and fall are the best times to do this when the weather is cooler.
Timing: Perennials may also signal it’s time for division if the leaves become a lighter green/yellow, less flowering occurs or if the center of the clump has begun to die. For the plant itself, it’s best to do this right after flowering so more energy can go into root growth.
Winter Care for Perennials
Putting your perennials to bed for the winter should occur sometime between late October to early November. Perennials that are reliably cold hardy in our region shouldn’t need any special winter care but spreading a layer of mulch over them after the soil freezes can help prevent winter damage during an especially cold season. Mulching also helps to retain winter moisture. It’s good practice to trim your herbaceous perennials and grasses down to the ground after the plant material has died.