perennial beds and
borders can be beautiful things. They can make a
sunny summer day even more delightful. But, to do
all that, you will have to put in some effort. Sure,
everyone wants to talk about "low maintenance"
gardens but, the reality is that you will still have
to work at it to reach your goal.
Over the years, we
have come up with a priority list of activities that
are routinely required in a perennial bed or border.
Level 1 includes those activities that
must be done on every
perennial bed or border. In other words, these are
the tasks that will give you the most "bang" for
your gardening dollar. They are also the very least
you can do to have a nice looking garden.
Level 2 is made up of
chores that should be
done in order to have a very nice looking garden.
These are items that will improve the looks and
longevity of the plants in the bed or border. This
will take you additional hours but are usually well
worth the effort.
Level 3 are
those activities which you might do if you have the
time and energy (or money to hire done). These are
the so-called "fine tuning" which will make your
garden really shine for this year and years to come.
l. Things that must be done in every perennial garden
Edge the Beds and Borders
- the way that you can get the most impact from
activity is to re-cut the edges of the beds and
borders. This will give them a crisp, clean look
that will get them off to a good start.
Weeding - Do a
thorough weeding during the first or second work
day on the garden. Pull them out of the ground
if possible but be careful that the one doing
the job can identify the "good" plants. Once the
areas is cleaned up, schedule a time at least
one a month to go around and pull out any new
Watering - In
general, the plants you will be growing require
an inch of water per week in the form of either
rain or irrigation. Buy a rain gauge to help you
keep track of the rain and to measure the amount
of irrigation water you apply.
Pest Management -
Keep a close eye on the plants in your garden to
detect signs of insect, disease, animal or other
damage that may occur. Familiarize yourself with
the plants in your garden because there are
often specific problems that are inherent to a
particular species plant. The concept of
Pest Management (IPM) which calls for
looking at an array of pest control techniques
is a great way to go in the ornamental bed or
Write Things Down -
Don't rely on your memory to keep track of the
things you have done (or need to do) in the
flower garden. Write down any chemicals you
might have used, the date of the last weeding,
observations about the plants and anything that
seem pertinent. Of course, today you want to
transfer your notes onto a computer file of some
sort for safe keeping.
II Things that should be
done in a perennial garden
Mulching - It was
hard to determine if mulching is a must do or a
should do activity. An organic mulch of shredded
bark, wood chips, coco bean hulls or others will
bring the garden together and will help to show
off your plants. Use about an inch to two inches
to help conserve moisture, hold down weeds and
add to the aesthetic value of the bed or border.
If you have trouble with slugs, rake up old
mulch and put it in the compost bin. Then apply
fresh material. Wet, decomposing mulch is an
ideal environment for slugs.
Fertilizer - This
can be a tricky thing in a perennial bed or
border because you are growing many different
species of plants in a relatively small area.
Each plant has its own requirements so you
should do a little research. Some plants come
from areas with poor soils and will respond to
fertilizers with an unnatural spurt of growth
which may cause them to fall over. Others came
from the wide open, rich soils of the prairie
and may work best with a little boost in
nutrients. Many shade plants can get along just
fine on nutrients supplied by a soil enriched
with plenty of organic matter.
Winter Care - You
can cut down the foliage of perennials after
they have been killed by a frost. However,
certain species like ornamental grasses or
astilbe blooms give some winter interest so
there is no hurry. Just be sure to cut them down
before new growth starts the following spring.
III. Things that might be
done in a perennial garden
Ornamental plants should stand up by themselves.
However, there are bound to be a few in your
garden that do not behave. They may get to tall
because of lack of enough sunlight or too much
nitrogen fertilizer or exposure to strong winds.
Also, plant breeders have built some pretty
large flowers onto tall plants and they just
can't support themselves. Nothing seriously bad
will happen if you don't stake these plants.
They will just bend over a bit. Staking would be
one of those fine point adjustments if you
aiming at a "perfect" garden.
Deadheading - This
can be time consuming depending on the type of
plants you are growing.
Daylilies for instance
have blooms that only last one day and can be
difficult to keep up with. Some plants will
reward deadheading by producing more flowers for
your enjoyment (actually to fulfill their job of
producing seed for the next generation). Again,
if you don't have time for this, nothing bad
Pinching - Some
garden plants such as
Chrysanthemums and others will benefit from
having the tips of branches pinched or cut off.
This process makes them branch more and produce
more sites where flowers can be borne.
Cutting Back - A
few species of perennials benefit by being cut
to the ground early in the season since they
will grow back and bloom again later in the
Thinning - After
the bed or border has been established for 3 or
4 years, many plants will have grown larger and
may be encroaching on nearby plants. Also, some
of the short lived perennials may have died
back. Thinning means taking out parts of the
spreading plants to allow more room between
Dividing - Part of
the thinning process will be dividing the clumps
of overgrown plants. The divisions may be moved
to other beds or borders, given away to friends
or, as a last gasp, put into the compost bin.
Winter Protection -
If time permits, you can protect evergreens with
burlap barriers. Also, any perennials planted
after November 1 could be covered with extra
mulch for protection from heaving. This mulch
needs to be removed very early in the spring
before growth begins.