Perennials are not difficult to grow and maintain (after all, they regrow year on year), and they positively thrive in very difficult sites, such as shady corners or areas with permanently moist soil. But does that mean we can have a beautiful perennial garden that is maintenance-free Well, not quite in this world you don’t usually get something for nothing. Follow a few simple plant care guidelines, however, and your perennial garden will delight you with a healthy, vigorous display for a minimum of work.
Before we look at the different aspects of maintaining a healthy perennial garden, just a few words about the importance of careful planting. The greater the care taken with soil preparation, selection of healthy plants and adequate watering at the very outset, the less work you will have further down the line. You will be able to spend more time relaxing in your garden enjoying the wonderful display if, initially, you have given your perennials the optimum growing conditions in which to thrive.
Both feeding and watering established plants in your perennial garden should definitely not be time-consuming chores. Established perennials, grown on well-cultivated land and well-watered when first planted, require little in the way of feeding and watering. An annual application in the spring of general purpose granular fertilizer or blood, fish and bonemeal should supply all the nutrients your plants will need. Care should be taken to avoid scorching leaves, flowers and stems when applying the fertilizer.
Watering of mature plants should be minimal. Not only does this make sense in terms of conserving precious water, but also in saving you hours of work. Of course, prolonged periods of drought might call for some watering of your perennial garden. Try, though, to use “grey”, recycled water or rainwater collected in a water-butt. Remember, too, when you do need to water do so later in the day and direct the water down into the roots. As with fertilizer, keep water away from the foliage water droplets on leaves evaporate under an intense sun to leave brown scorch marks.
From watering to the dreaded weeding – an audible groan immediately goes up for this onerous chore! But is this really so bad Why not uproot weeds when they’re small This way you make the job easier and, importantly, avoid disturbing your plants’ roots. Better still, why not apply an organic mulch in spring or summer when the soil is moist You’ll suppress weeds while, at the same time, you’ll also be helping to retain the soil’s moisture and improve its structure. Shredded bark and stone chips make a good, decorative, weed-suppressing soil covering.
Perhaps, though, from a plantsman’s point of view, the best solution to weed suppression is planting. Columbine, for example, is a natural colonizer and self-seeder if allowed to spread quite freely weeds are naturally suppressed. Low-growing, creeping perennials, like catmint, fulfil the same function. A luxuriant, naturalistic planting scheme in a perennial garden is the best weed-suppressant of all; easy on the eye and easy on the back!
Of course, there is a difference between luxuriant growth and congested growth. Foliage and flowering displays can be improved by
1.Thinning or picking out shoots delphiniums, lupins, and michaelmas daisies benefit from this treatment.
2.Cutting back old flowered stems to promote regrowth delphiniums, catmint and salvias
respond well and will give a second display.
3.Deadheading, or removing, flowerheads as they fade chrysanthemums, phlox, lupins, and panstemons will produce a second flush of flowers.
4.Dividing vigorous perennials every three to five years e.g sedums, irises and bergenias. Replant the healthiest, newest sections.
All the above are hardly arduous jobs and, in the case of division, infrequent. These gentle tasks, carried out regularly throughout the summer, exemplify the more relaxing and enjoyable aspects of maintaining a healthy, aesthetically-pleasing perennial garden. “Little and often” is the key.
Staking perennials is, for many, as much a chore as weeding. Different types of perennials have different requirements
1.Delphiniums and other tall-stemmed perennials should be tied loosely to a cane when 8-9 ins. tall.
2.Clumps of perennials, tall asters and astilbes for instance, bebefit from link of ring
stakes which can be raised as the plant grows.
But, as with weeding so with staking why not obviate the need for staking in the first place by choosing free-standing perennials such as hardy geraniums, day lilies and columbine Alternatively, look out for the newer, more compact versions of old favorites like delphiniums and asters which, when used together with free-standing plants, will still provide you with a wonderful display but little work.
Finally, when plants have finished their display, the dead foliage and stems need tidying up and cutting back to the base. But is this all strictly necessary in the fall Why not leave attractive stems and flowerheads to overwinter in the garden The rimed forms of asters, sedums and phlomis look truly spectacular in a winter landscape as do the tough plumes and spikelets of grasses. If given a little protection, grasses, like miscanthus offer a welcome sight of warm beiges and browns while the yellow-striped carex and red-tinged hakonechloa persist throughout the winter. In keeping with the principle “little and often”, finish tidying up before new shoots appear. That’s not too bad, is it
So, to sum up plant with care and choose your plants with care. In this way you will enjoy a perennial garden that offers the best of both worlds maintenance-lite but still offering a visual delight even in the depths of winter.