June is Perennial Gardening Month

June is the perfect time to plant perennials

Because of the abundance of perennials that bloom this month, June has been designated as Perennial Gardening Month by the Perennial Plant Association.

Perennial gardens often bring to mind the classic cottage garden or vibrant perennial border, and rightfully so.  Cottage gardens and perennial borders burst with a variety of colors, heights, and textures. Beautiful and evolving throughout the entire growing season, even in the depths of winter, perennial gardens are visually captivating and provide wildlife habitat.

Perennials and the Paradox of Choice

Simply defined, the paradox of choice is being overwhelmed by too many choices.  Have you experienced the paradox of choice when trying to decide which perennials to add to your garden?

With virtually endless options of perennials available, creating an entirely new perennial garden or even just adding a few perennials to your garden can be daunting. However, applying these three simple decision-making strategies will help simplify the process and should help make your best options obvious:
Where, What and How?

Where:   

Sun or shade - consider the sun exposure

Is the garden located in full sun or partial sun?

  • If it is in partial sun; is it morning sun or afternoon sun?
    Yes, it does matter. Temperatures of morning sun tends to be cooler than afternoon sun and different plants have difference heat tolerances.

  • Perhaps the garden is in a shady area. If so, is it in full shade, mostly shade or part shade?  

Container garden or in-ground garden

  • A growing gardening trend (pun intended), is to create perennial container gardens and then transplant the perennials to an in-ground garden bed towards the end of the growing season. Some perennials adapt to transplanting better than others and it is important to know what time of year is best for the plant re-location project.

  • In general, established perennials will overwinter better when planted in the ground than in a container. However, when overwintering perennials in a container, a general rule of (green) thumb is to subtract at least one hardiness zones. For example, if you live in Zone 5, the perennials should be Zone 4 or lower.  To verify the Hardiness Zone where you live check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.  

    Below are a few additional tips to overwintering perennials in a container:

    • A large container has more mass and holds more soil. This mass provides insulation that helps moderate the soil temperature, protecting the plant’s roots from temperature extremes. The additional soil also helps retain soil moisture.  

    • Cover the soil with organic mulch: bark mulch or leaves, or even a few layers of newspaper. In addition to moderating soil temperature fluctuations and retaining moisture, the cover helps prevent weed seeds from taking up residence in your perennial container garden.

    • Further protect your perennial container garden by moving it to a more protected area. Even a non-heated garage will help protect it from severe temperature extremes. Since the plants are dormant, light isn’t required, but check the container every few weeks to make sure the soil is still moist. However, be careful not to over-water as this could cause the plant to come out of dormancy prematurely.

What:

Flowers, foliage, or both

Usually perennials are celebrated for their flowers and long blooming period, yet some are infamous for their foliage; think of Hosta, succulents, and ornamental grasses. An ever-growing (another pun?) category of perennials are those with unique foliage such as Heuchera or Ligularia, that also have notable flowers.  

Height: tall, medium, or short

Consider the placement in the garden, whether it be a perennial border or container garden.

o   Traditional perennial borders are essentially designed in three distinct sections: the tallest plants are placed towards the back then the mid-height plants and lastly, at the front of the border is most often a low growing flowering perennial or ground-cover.

o   A perennial container garden that will be viewed from all angles, or nearly all angles, should have the tallest plant in the center, with mid-height plants surrounding the tallest plant and ultimately the shortest plants around the edge of the container. Just remember the standard container gardening design tenet Thriller, Fillers and Spillers applies in a perennial container garden just as it does for an annual container garden.

For more design ideas and garden maintenance tips read The Blogpost Pile: Coloring Your Garden with Annuals, as the ideas and tips shared in this article apply to perennials as well as annuals.

 How:

How much maintenance?

Some perennials require more maintenance to keep them blooming and healthy than others do. Understanding how much time you want to enjoy in the garden tending to your flowers, will help ensure your perennial garden thrives for years to come.

How much moisture?  

Determining how much natural moisture your garden receives and how much supplemental water you plan to provide will significantly assist your decision-making process and reduce the Paradox of Choice predicament.

Learn more about low water and lower maintenance gardening on The Blogpost Pile:

10 Steps to Wise Watering and What is Xeriscaping?

Celebrate Perennial Gardening Month by discovering new perennials or rediscovering your favorite classic perennials at your local garden center.   

Photos courtesy of CSU Trial Garden

 

Allison Gault