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Perennials: Care Guide

by dig the dirt editor

Good gardening practices will keep your perennials in good health and make them more resistant to disease. The following simple procedures will give your perennials the help they need to thrive. You'll be rewarded with an abundance of blossoms year after year.



about perennials  | read more about perennials
packing and unpacking | choosing a site | planting your perennials
perennial-care tips  | dividing perennials
 perennial specifics| dividing bulbs |tools of the trade








Where soil has been properly prepared, the roots will grow deeply, rather than near the surface, which reduces the need for frequent watering. It is of prime importance to water the plants deeply, rather then sprinkling the top of the soil. An hour or so after watering, check to see how far the water has penetrated. If only the top surface soil is moist it will be necessary to water again so that the water reaches the roots where it is needed most. A lot of water is lost to evaporation during overhead watering. Much preferred is a soaker hose or drip or trickle system which applies the water at ground level where most of it immediately soaks into the soil. Many arguments can be made for morning versus afternoon watering; ultimately the timing is of far less importance than the quantity.



Most soils, if properly prepared and mulched, do not require heavy applications of fertilizer to support strong growth of perennial plants. Use a gentle fertilizer with a balanced ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium twice a year: once in spring and again mid-season. Use formulations that provide plants with a quick start and long-lasting nutrients. Good natural fertilizers may include blood meal, bone meal, alfalfa meal, feather meal, sunflower hull ash, bat guano, and/or kelp meal. Avoid overfertilizing; this can result in weak, floppy stems.



Mulching helps to reduce the evaporation of soil moisture, keeps roots cool, discourages the germination of weed seeds and reduces the spreading of diseases. The gradual decomposition of organic mulch enriches the soil; some, such as pine needles, can help keep the soil from becoming too alkaline. In addition to being beneficial to your plants, mulches are aesthetically pleasing, giving the perennial bed a cared-for appearance. In cold-winter areas, you can apply extra mulch in the fall to help prevent plants from heaving out of the ground as the soil freezes and thaws.


Protecting from temperature extremes:

Newly-planted perennials need protection from extremes of heat and cold. Cover plants with fabrics, blankets, row covers, towels or sheets to protect them from sustained freezing temperatures. It is best not to use plastic, which holds cold in. Offer extra shade to new plants until they become better established. Shade will help reduce plant stress, wilting, evaporation, and sunburn.

Mulch protects the plants and the supporting soil around them from frost-heave during alternately freezing and thawing weather. Apply mulch as soon as the ground has frozen, but not before, because many mulches can readily become the perfect winter home for destrucive small rodents. Evergreen boughs, salt hay and pine needles work well but avoid anything that will mat down and retain moisture around the crowns of your plants, such as maple leaves.



Some type of support is necessary for many perennials: when the plants are overcrowded, placed too close to a wall or a hedge, overly shaded by a building or trees, planted in excessively rich soil or in an exposed or windy site. Some plants, such as dahlias and delphiniums, are naturally weak-stemmed or weak at the base and will always require staking or support of some kind to look their best. Staking need not be obvious; insert the stakes early, while growth is still low. The plants will hide their support as they grow and bloom.



Most perennials become unsightly after their blooms have faded; spent flower need to be removed. It is important to determine whether the flowers are borne on new stems arising from the base or if they are borne in the leaf axils over much of the plant. The latter should be deadheaded to the next lowest node, thereby stimulating the growth of lateral spikes. Some plants will rebloom later in the season if cut back just after the primary bloom has faded. Conscientious deadheading not only improves the appearance of the perennial beds as a whole but also assures a longer blooming time. Plants with decorative berries or the ornamental grasses with their long-lived and attractive seed heads should not be deadheaded



Perennials, care guide