How to Care for Perennials

How to Keep your Perennials Happy and Your Garden Healthy

Basic upkeep and care of your perennials will promote soil health and produce better results. Follow these easy steps and you’ll see stunning results in your garden.
Six Steps for Caring for Perennials

  1. Watering Needs of Perennials
  2. Mulching
  3. Dead-heading of Perennials
  4. Weeding
  5. Staking and Pinching
  6. Division – Divide Perennials for  Healthier Plants

With some basic upkeep and care, your perennials will produce beautiful blooms and keep your garden looking beautiful over many seasons and many years. Follow the following six steps and you’ll be an expert at growing perennials!

1. Watering Needs of Perennials

Hand-watering with a hose can eat up a lot of your time and can waste a lot of water, as can sprinklers. If you still prefer over-head watering, however, water your plants early in the day. Soaker and drip irrigation hoses will save you time and will conserve water. Because these irrigation systems water at soil level, they also prevent leaves from getting wet, which can lead to disease.

Consider xeriscaping, using drought-tolerant perennials like sedums, penstemons and yucca to achieve a desert look with a desert like need for watering; not much. Asters and Epimedium (among others) will work for those who don’t want to go southwestern with the look of the border.

Watering is becoming a big issue for many areas, and it’s no fun to plant a garden and then have someone in your town government say you can’t water it. Xeriscaping could be the answer for your garden; not no water, but low watering.

2. Deadheading of Perennials

Deadheading means removing dead, wilted, spent flowers. Deadheadingwill promote more blooms and will enhance the strength and health of your perennials. Deadheading before a plant goes to seed will also prevent invasive perennials from overtaking less aggressive plants. Additionally, most perennials are not very attractive when in seed. The exceptions to the deadheading rule are in perennials that have ornamental seed heads, which are attractive in their own right, or if you wish to collect seeds for future propagation. That said I also leave up plants for winter interest, (grasses, sedums…) and for habitat feeding (rudbeckia, echinacea…). Just a little homework will help you decide who gets chopped and who stays…

3. Mulching

Mulching is the process of covering soil around your perennials with materials such as compost or pine needles. During warm weather, mulching will help to keep the soil cool and prevent loss of moisture. Mulching also deters weeds, and the mulch itself can add nutrients to the soil. Winter mulching should be considered in colder climates. After the ground has frozen, mulch with dried leaves or straw to protect the plant’s roots from severe weather. Remove the winter mulch gradually in the early spring to allow the plants to slowly grow accustomed to the sunshine and warm weather.

4. Weeding

Nobody likes weeding… I certainly don’t. But weeds will steal precious nutrients, sunshine and water away from your perennials if they are not diligently removed. Weeding should be done on a continual basis so that the weeds don’t have a chance to go to seed and turn a small nuisance into a big problem. Hand-weeding is still the most effective way to remove weeds. If weeding a large flower bed, you can use a hoe, but take care not to damage the roots of the plants around them. To make this chore a little more pleasant, I recommend investing in a gardener’s kneeling pad as well as a sturdy pair of gardening gloves.

5. Staking and Pinching

Tall perennials will look and fare better if they are staked or tied up to avoid slumping over on the ground. Peonies, for example, often bend over under the weight of their large blooms. Using a support, such as a wire peony hoop, will keep your peony upright and looking lovely. Place the hoop on the peony when the plant is young and raise it as the peony grows.

Tall-stemmed flowers can easily be tied to bamboo stakes in order to keep them off the ground. If you don’t want to use stakes, try pinching plants in the late spring. Pinching plants along the stem while they are growing will promote bushy growth, rather than upward growth, so that the plant will be less likely to need a stake when it blooms.

6. Division – Divide Your Perennials for  Healthy Plants

Division entails splitting plants apart into smaller plants. Division not only maintains the health of your perennial garden through the years, but it also is an easy way to propagate your plants. Perennials such as iris or hemerocallis (daylily) will show a noted decrease in blooms over the years if they are not divided. In general, dividing should be done every two to four years.

It is best to dig the plant up in order to divide it, although it is possible to use a spade to divide the plant without removing it from the ground. Some plants like ornamental grasses or irises may require knives, machetes, or even hatchets to get the job done, but it is worth it.

Some things to keep in mind, the more plants you make, the less show next year. Sure you now have six irises from that one in the ground, but they’re all so small it’ll be two years before you see a flower again. Splitting in half gives you two decent plants, but they’ll both need dividing next year! Figure out how often you want to do this job and find your happy medium. Plants should generally be divided in the fall, although fall-blooming flowers should be divided in the early spring. The divisions make lovely gifts from your garden to friends and family, who will think of you every time they see that plant. Not bad for free…