what are perennials

What Are Perennials

What if you could plant something once and receive a harvest yearly? If that sounds interesting to you, then you should investigate perennials. I know I am mainly talking about edible gardening here. Perennials are plants that will live for more than two seasons, and I like to think of perennials as plants that will live forever in your garden.  

What is a Perennial

A perennial is a plant that re-grows every year from the same rootstock that you planted once. True perennials die back during the winter months and reemerge in the spring, and some perennials only last a few years while others may last for decades.  

Different Uses for Perennials 

Since perennials come in different sizes, shapes, colors, and forms, you should use them throughout your garden. You can use them in any of the following circumstances.

  • Flowerbeds
  • Containers 
  • Groundcovers
  • Tall Grasses perennials
  • Herb Gardens

Bed Preparation 

To have a successful perennial garden, you must start with bed preparation. Proper preparation will ensure the patch is productive for the years to come. Let’s discuss some of the key points:

Eliminating weeds

The first step in starting a new perennial patch is to eliminate weeds. You can do this through solarization, digging, or applying a non-selective herbicide(I don’t recommend this, but hey, do you).  

Provide Drainage

Well-drained soil is critical for growing perennials. Avoid planting them in low-lying areas. During the bed preparation site, make sure to add organic matter; this helps also aids with drainage.

If your proposed area does not have good drainage, be prepared to build raised beds or change locations. You can check the drainage by digging a hole 8-12 inches deep and filling it with water. Let the water drain and do this again. If the water drains in less than one hour, the spot is satisfactory. If not, you will need to explore changing sites or building raised beds.

Add Organic Matter 

There is no shortcut when it comes to soil preparation. Adding organic matter is a must, and organic matter is just as important as removing weeds from the area. Organic matter improves drainage, improves the physical and biological properties of the soil, and adds necessary nutrients to the soil.  

Planting And Transplanting 

Like most plants, there are different ways to purchase from 1- or 2-gallons containers to bare roots or packaged plants. These can be purchased at a local nursery or through mail-order catalogs. If you buy online and receive the plants before the ideal planting time, keep the roots cool and moist until proper planting time.  

The best time to plant most perennials is in the spring. The earlier we plant them, the more robust the root system is when the plant enters winter. Avoid planting them in late fall. The lack of time to establish themselves before frost can result in death. 

Proper planting depth is essential for success. When planting containerized perennials, plant them at the same depth they were in the container. Planting too high will leave roots exposed, drying them out, and planting too low leads to rotting from improper drainage. Before planting, water the containers and soak bare roots for one hour to rehydrate the plants.  

Maintenance 

Even the most drought-tolerant perennials require additional water until established because the root system is still establishing itself. 

The best thing you can do for new and established perennials is to apply a layer of 1-2 inches of mulch. Organic mulches are the best option because as they decompose, they feed the soil microbes and improve the quality of the soil. Read more about the benefits of mulch here.

Fertilizer is only necessary when plants show signs of chlorosis or decreased vigor, and that’s because the organic mulches add nutrients to the soil.  

Dividing Perennials 

Divide perennials whenever the plant’s middle dies out, produce smaller flowers or leaves, or blooms less. Why the middle? Most of them expand outwards, so the center of the plant is the oldest while the outer parts are younger.

Dividing perennials helps promote plant health and can help rejuvenate stunted plants. Ii is also a great way to deal with plants that have become crowded. You should only divide them during their dormant season. If you must divide perennials during their blooming/ growing season, be prepared to provide shade after transplanting.

Not all perennials respond well to being divided. Some plants like baptisia have long, deep roots that do not respond well when disturbed. 

Fall and winter care 

Late fall and winter are the dormant seasons for most perennials. During this time, apply a 2″ layer of mulch over the perennial bed and be prepared to water once a week. I have seen that most perennials are better left standing than cutting them down to the ground. The perennials offer good resources to birds and a place for pollinators to overwinter and lay their eggs. The remaining foliage helps to insulate the crowns. So, if you live in an area with harsh winters, you may want to practice this.  

If you choose to cut down the perennial’s foliage, cut the plants within 2-3″ of the crown. Cutting too close can injure the plant and even affect next year’s growth.  

For more information on perennials, check out these articles

How to Divide Perennials 

Top Perennials For Your Garden

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