We all love to save money in the garden. After all, annuals may provide a splash of color in borders, but it’s expensive and time-consuming to create gardens based on short-lived plants. Perennials, however, offer longevity. Plant once, give them a little TLC while they settle in, and then relax and enjoy while they create a gorgeous show for years.
Are perennials really that easy? Yes! However, it’s important to plan a bit and do your homework before purchasing perennials for your garden. To help choose the best perennials for your space, we’ve compiled a list of things to consider before your first plant purchase.
1. Consider Your Site
Do you live in the hot and humid south? Are you still wearing a winter coat in May? Before you purchase your first perennial, consider your climate. Choosing perennials appropriate for your area is half the battle. While tropical hibiscus look lovely along the Florida coast, these heat-loving perennials turn into annuals in the chilly north.
When planning your perennial garden, check your gardening zone. You can find your zone by entering your zip code here. Then, as you create your list of favorite flowers and foliage plants, check their hardiness zones to ensure that they will survive and thrive in your climate.
Often, you can cheat your zone’s recommendations a bit by applying a thick layer of mulch in the winter to protect tender perennials’ roots or by planting in a microclimate in your garden. But if you’d rather play it safe, follow the recommended zone hardiness when purchasing perennials. However, if you can’t live without tropical hibiscus surrounding your swimming pool in the summer, don’t worry—simply plant them in containers and take them indoors to protect them from winter temperatures. Or, consider a perennial alternative, like our Hibiscus ‘Brandy Punch’—a hardy perennial hibiscus with big, bold, tropical-looking blooms that will add beauty to your poolscape for years.
Do you live in a shady forest, where only dappled sunlight breaks through the tree canopy? Does your garden boast full, uninterrupted sun all day? Or, do you have the dream garden with gorgeous morning sun followed by a bit of cooling shade during the scorching afternoon?
Shady, sunny, or partially shady…you’ll find perennials perfect for any light situation by doing your homework. While many gardeners believe that full sun offers the only way to produce beautiful blooms, too much intense summer sun actually can burn leaves and dramatically increase watering needs of plants not suited for sunny, dry conditions.
Likewise, planting a sun-loving perennial in deep shade may lead to disappointment, with stunted growth and few blooms. Instead, research the best plants for your growing conditions. A few perennials to consider for full sun or partial shade include:
- Yarrow, such as Achillea millefolium ‘Strawberry Seduction’
- Cornflower, such as Centaurea ‘Amethyst Dream’
- Tickseed, like Coreopsis Creme Brulee
- Perennial Mum, such as Dendranthema ‘Autumn Spice Igloo’
- Sea Holly, like Ernygium ‘Big Blue
- Helen’s Flower, Helenium Mardi Gras
- Oxeye, like Heliopsis ‘Bressingham Doubloon’
- Rose Mallow, such as Hibiscus ‘Cinnamon Grappa’
- Beardtongue, like Penstemon ‘Prairie Twilight’
- Rose, Rosa Blushing Knock Out®
- Black-Eyed Susan, such as Rudbeckia ‘Viette’s Little Suzy’
- Sun-loving Hydrangea, such as Bobo®
- Japanese Anemone, such as Anemone ‘Pretty Lady Julia’
- Bergenia, like ‘Bressignham Ruby’
- Bellflower, like Campanula Blue Waterfall
- Spurge, such as Euphorbia ‘Bonfire’
- Cranesbill, like Geranium Rozanne®
- Shasta Daisy, like Leucanthemum Freak!®
- Ragged Robin, like Lychnis flos-cuculi ‘Petit Henri’
Also, remember that lighting in your landscape changes throughout the year. The amount of sunlight your garden beds receive in early spring may be substantially greater than the light in mid-summer, when trees are covered in leaves. Take note of the garden light throughout the year and place your perennials accordingly. For instance, your early spring bed may be perfect for sun-loving tulips, but by mid summer, it may be less sunny and better-suited for partial-sun plants.
One of the best things about perennials is their portability. If, after a season or two you realize your perennial isn’t in the perfect spot for peak performance, simply relocate it. It’s always best to wait until fall or early spring to transplant a perennial so it can settle in before extreme temperatures kick in.
Great soil grows gorgeous, healthy perennials. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to know if your soil matches the needs of the plant. Sandy, loamy, and clay soil are fairly easy to identify with simple physical tests. However, important soil components, like micronutrients, are invisible to the naked eye. Because different perennials have different nutrient needs, test your soil to know its makeup—and add amendments when needed.
A simple soil test gives you a thorough analysis of pH, nutrients that may be missing, as well as micronutrients that may be present, offering you a prescription to cure any soil woes prior to planting. Many university cooperative extension services offer soil testing. For about the price of a cup of coffee, you’ll receive a thorough analysis of the soil, including detailed recommendations of how to amend the soil, depending on what you plan to grow. You can also find soil testing kits online or in garden centers. Checking your soil prior to planting allows you to create the perfect new home for your perennials.
When creating a garden with perennials, ensuring multi-season interest is a priority. A garden that includes beautiful blooms and interesting foliage from spring through frost makes for a delighted gardener. It may seem challenging to plan ongoing seasonal interest without the aid of a garden designer. However, with a little research, you can fill your beds with blooms all season.
Make sure to consider foliage and texture, too, when creating your garden. Beautiful foliage and interesting texture creates a lovely garden aesthetic—even without a bloom in sight!
To get you started, select a few perennials that peak during each season. If you love pink flowers, for instance, consider Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ for spring, Hibiscus ‘Peppermint Schnapps’ for summer, and Dendranthema ‘Dainty Pink Igloo’ for fall. Or use this plan by our expert garden designer Kerry Ann Mendez for long-lasting, multi-season interest.
5. Pair Your Plants
When selecting perennials, remember that not all plants make good neighbors. For instance, plants that thrive in dry conditions will be unhappy living next to thirsty perennials that prefer consistently moist soil. Also, consider the size of plant neighbors, making sure that one perennial won’t quickly overshadow its companion, hogging light, water, and nutrients. Look at the plant tags when shopping, or research plants with similar growing conditions online. For instance, if you’re looking for waterwise plants, check out our recommendations here.
With a little research and planning, creating a garden filled with perennials perfect for your climate, soil, and aesthetic preferences will be a breeze. Plus, once you’ve created your gorgeous garden, you can sit back and relax, watching it fill in and become lovelier each year with very little maintenance. Now, doesn’t that sound like a perfect garden?
For more gardening inspiration, be sure to join Rozanne’s Inner Circle!