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Quick Guide To Choosing Perennial Plants
Perennial plants can be the greatest thing growing. They come back year after year, typically require little effort, and can fill out a space with color, foliage, and design interest. Interested in less work and lush gardens?
When looking over the vast number of choices available, you might be concerned about choosing the right plants or if they will do well and thrive in your space. The world of perennial plants can be expansive and confusing, so let’s shrink it down a little.
What is a Perennial?
A perennial plant is one whose lifecycle is longer than two years. In other words, they can grow in your garden or yard for many years. A tree is a perennial plant, although we don’t think of them that way. So is a rose bush, a clump of ornamental grass, or a daylily.
How to Tell if a Plant Is an Annual or Perennial
Annuals, by comparison, complete their life cycle in one year, usually germinating in spring, growing and flowering in summer, making new seeds, and finishing in fall. Annual flowers and plants are common in our gardens. Tomatoes, snapdragons, and sunflowers are annuals and must be replanted every spring.
Biennials are like annuals; they are short-lived but require two years to complete their lifecycle instead of one. They typically spend the first year growing and storing energy then flower and reproduce in the second year. Carrots, some foxgloves, and onions are examples of common biennials.
A perennial will live for many years and won’t need to be replanted every spring.
When shopping for perennial plants, you may come across the phrase ‘tender perennial.’ They are called tender because they are not cold hardy or not cold hardy for your zone but may be perennial in warmer areas.
Dahlias are an example of tender perennials. Dahlias are perennial if your garden is in USDA zone 8 or warmer. In colder zones, they are grown as annuals or must be dug up and brought inside every winter to survive.
How to Plant a Perennial Garden
Your perennials will be around to be enjoyed for a long time, so it is worth putting some thought into your garden selections and design. While they can be dug up and moved later, a little forethought goes a long way. Consider these points and tips.
Sleep, Creep, Leap
Perennials typically grow slowly during their first year–sleep. Then they pick up the pace a bit their second year–creep, and finally, they seem to take off in the third growing season–leap. Keep their mature size in mind when designing your garden beds and figuring out how many plants you need. They are often small when purchased, but they won’t stay that way.
While waiting for perennials to fill the space, consider planting annuals between them. Annuals can be an inexpensive option to bring color and ‘fullness’ to the garden bed while waiting for your perennials to hit their stride.
Vary the Textures, Shapes, and Colors
Perennial grasses, flowering shrubs, foliage plants, and flowers can all be combined to create stunning displays. Take notes of plants you like when visiting botanical gardens, parks, and even restaurants and shops.
Sketch out a design with colored pencils. Take the time to find an arrangement that pleases you.
Consider Sunlight Needs, Moisture, and Soil
Like other plants, perennials will be classified by their liking or dislike of sunshine. Hostas are shade-loving perennial plants that will detest being planted in full sun.
Dwarf pink Muhly grass is well suited for dry sites but won’t tolerate having wet feet.
Some perennials don’t mind poor soil, while others need rich, fertile sites.
Cold Hardy Perennials
Be cautious of the cold hardy ratings for perennials. While it doesn’t matter for annuals, many perennials sold at garden centers will not survive the winter unless brought inside. A zone 8-11 perennial is not a good choice to leave outside overwinter in a zone 5 location.
Check the tag or website to see what zones are recommended, and then check the USDA map if you are unsure about your location. Enter your address or where it will be planted if given as a gift to ensure the plant is suited for the local climate.
Draft a plan, do a little shopping with us, and watch your yard transform into a beautiful, perennial plant oasis.