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Purple coneflowers

Herbaceous perennials are common favorites in any garden or landscape. They require little maintenance and unlike annual plants, will bloom for two or more years. Perennials also come in an array of colors, giving gardeners more options to add color to their landscapes. The following information will help gardeners grow healthy perennials all year long.

Popular Perennials

Popular perennials grown in Alabama include

  • black-eyed susan
  • purple coneflower
  • sedum
  • peony
  • bearded iris
  • daylily
  • salvia
  • coreopsis
  • hosta
  • phlox
  • false indigo (Baptisia)
  • aster
  • Russian sage

These perennials will die back in the winter, while their roots, clumps of stems, or buds will survive just underneath the soil surface. New shoots will appear in the spring. Some perennials are short lived, lasting only two to three years, while others will last longer. No matter the perennial a gardener chooses, understanding the basic gardening practices – such as adequate watering, soil and sun conditions, regional planting recommendations, and fertilizing – will help the plants thrive.

Soil Testing

Prior to installing new plantings, growers should conduct a soil test. Soil condition is an important factor in growing healthy plants. Plants need water, air, and nutrients to grow. A soil test will provide vital information on the pH and fertility of the location. Perennials generally thrive in soil with a pH acidity balance of 6.0 to 7.0. Adding soil amendments, such as nutrients, are based upon the results of a soil test. A grower may need to amend their soil regularly since plants and rainwater may deplete nutrients from the soil. Over time, a gardener will get to know their garden or landscape soil better.

Planting Conditions

After determining the condition of the soil in a garden or landscape, choose perennials based on regional location and garden design. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to help gardeners determine what plants are more likely to thrive in their area based on temperature and sunlight. Observe the plant site to see how the sun moves across the ground from morning to dusk. This will help to determine whether plants will need shade, partial, or full sun.

In addition, consider how tall the plant grows based on garden design. Taller perennials should be placed in the back rows of a garden so that shorter plants can take full advantage of the sun. Taller plants may have to be staked in early spring to allow plants to grow through or around them. Some perennials make good border plants along walkways, while others serve as vibrant focal points around shade trees or as attractions for butterflies or humming birds.

As plants grow, consider dividing them to give them more room. The best time to divide perennials depends on the region. In cold regions, early spring is usually the best time. In warmer and hot climates with mild winters and hot summers, fall may be a better time to divide plants. Make sure the plant looks healthy and that they have four to six weeks to root before the ground freezes.

Adequate Watering

Just as plants need sun and room to grow, they also need water. New plantings require deep, regular watering to prevent drying out, so be sure to soak the soil. Establishing a good root system during the first year’s growth is important for the plant’s continued health and vigor. Longer duration and less frequent watering times promote deep strong root systems. Water also allows fertilizers to dissolve in the soil which is better for plant growth.

Fertilizing

A soil test will determine any initial fertilization requirements. Most perennials do not need frequent fertilization. Over fertilizing flowering perennials will produce excessive vegetative growth and few flowers. Fertilizers with lower formulations are sufficient unless otherwise indicated by a periodic soil test.

Seasonal Care

The following is a list of actions to take for seasonal care of perennial plants:

Spring

  • Test the soil
  • Cut back tall ornamental grasses
  • Remove winter protection gradually
  • Weed, much, and clear edges
  • Thin and divide plants
  • Pinch plants back
  • Prepare stakes and support cages in late spring

Summer

  • Weed and water as necessary
  • Pinch and deadhead plants
  • Cut back where necessary
  • Stake taller plants

Fall

  • Weed and water as necessary
  • Deadhead plants
  • Divide and move plants
  • Cut back where necessary

Winter

  • Weed and water as necessary
  • Add 2 to 3 inches of mulch to plant site
  • Winterize the planting bed after the frost

Conclusion

Because of their variety and vibrant blooms, perennials are a longtime favorite plant choice for gardens and landscapes. With little maintenance in nutrient-rich soil, perennials can be enjoyed in any garden or landscape for several years. Visit www.aces.edu for more information on gardening.

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