PERENNIALS: AN INTRODUCTION
Thank you for allowing Landscape Designs, Inc. the pleasure of introducing you to the enchanting world of perennials. A perennial garden with or without diversity, is a constantly changing scene of textures, colors, forms and moods. A nicely designed garden accounts for the subtlety of Pine‑Leafed Penstemon, the macro‑leaf of a Blue Amethyst Eryngium, the new crosiers of Berry‑Bladder Fern, the tufts of new needles on a `Cole's' Canadian Hemlock, the lepidopterous flower of a `Tunkhannock' Siberian Iris, the complex bloom of a Cypripedium Orchid, the curious flower of a `Beidemeier' Columbine or the favorite blossom of ` Silver Princess' Shasta Daisies. The enjoyment of a garden is compelling you to Come and See -- Come and See on a daily basis what is forming and manifesting itself -- seemingly only for your pleasure. Mom‑Nature invites you to take the time to smell the Autumn Sweet Clematis, to pick a bouquet of sunshine, to recline in the coolness of SPRING and savor a burst of fragrant Danford Iris. This constant change is what makes a garden spring to life. Yes, perennials do not perpetually bloom like their cousins the `Crazy Quilt' Impatients. Annuals do deserve a place in your garden for Mom‑Nature is fully supplied with many types of annuals, biennials and perennials. It would be sad if life didn't have this completeness.
WHAT ARE PERENNIALS?
Most of the World's plants are divided into the following categories:
Annual ‑‑ Plants that germinate, grow, flower, seed, & die in one growing season. Annuals usually live one year. E.g., Marigolds, Ragweed, Crabgrass, Soybeans.
Biennial ‑‑ Plants that germinate and grow in the first season, flower, seed and die in the second season. Biennials generally live two years. E.g., Canterbury Bells, Foxglove, Queen Ann's Lace, Mulleins, Beets, Carrots, Money Plant.
Perennial ‑ Plants that germinate, grow and occasionally flower the first season but usually in the second plus year. Perennials may require many years to reach maturity. Trillium may require five to seven years before flowering from a seed. After flowering, perennials generally do not die but live indefinitely, usually three or more years. E.g. Hosta, Sedum, Strawberry, Rhubarb, Blue Grass, Peony, Iris, Daylily, Chives, Astilbe.
TYPES OF PERENNIALS
HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS wither
completely to the ground after their growing season. This die back may
occur anytime during the growing season and does not necessarily suggest
the plant's death. Bleeding Hearts, Oriental Poppies, Bloodroot and
Virginia Blue Bells usually die back during July. Root-stock perennials
are usually herbaceous. Daffodils, True Lilies, Trillium and
Liatris die completely to the ground but the root-stocks remain
alive to bloom the following season. Iris rhizomes, Surprise
Lily bulbs, Crocus corms and Butterfly Flower tubers are root-stocks.
Surprisingly, many perennials require very little care. The following discussions should aid you in the general care and maintenance of your gardens. A newly planted perennial garden requires more care then a fully matured garden. During the first three to five years of your perennial garden's establishment, the quality of care will be reflected in the gardens' maturity, brilliance, enjoyment and durability.
Spring. A light covering of mulch remains on the garden but the Winter Aconite and `Snow Bunting' Crocus, are poking through. One is driven to give them air and sunlight but remember April 10 might be too far away. The nights still get very cool and the white stuff can still build up into huge pillows. About mid-April, I trust our mindless weather to quiet down and give your plants a chance to burst forth. Generally, clean up the garden in MID- APRIL.
Between April 15 and May 1, Winter's dormancy is broken and perennials are using the stored nutrients in their roots and bulbs. The energy required to produce leaves, stems and blossoms is manufactured by photosynthesis. To do this, your plants require a complete nutrient fertilizer. We may know plants need Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, but did you know they also require Sulfur for aromatics, Iron for high energy transfers and Copper for floral pigments. I recommend and offer my custom blended REMKE granulated fertilizer. My 8‑9 month formulation supplies 3 primary and 6 secondary nutrients in a readily available form. Broadcast applications done once per year, preferably in late Autumn, easily fertilize your garden. Early March applications may be done as soon as the soil thaws. When installing perennials, bulbs or annuals, broadcast REMKE® at one tablespoon around each plant or 1 pound (2 cupfuls) per 100 square foot (10 feet by 10 feet) area. This ensures sturdy growth and fine results. REMKE® is a time and temperature release fertilizer. Fertilizer is released very slowly at cooler temperatures. As the soil’s temperature and moisture rises fertilizers are released more rapidly -- coinciding with plant growth. Time release means no more mixing and colored fingers every ten days. This formulation means no more run off due to rain washing the nutrients away and leaching the fertilizer from the plant's roots. Some plants require special feeding. These included: Rhododendron, Azalea, Holly, Magnolia, Halesia, Orchids, Spruce, Boxwood, Pachysandra and Vinca. These plants enjoy acidic soils. Annual feedings with my sucrated FEMAX tablets supply the required Iron, Manganese, Zinc and Sulfur. Easily dibbled into the ground at the drip zone, they provide vital nutrients and soil conditioning for optimal growth.
When installing new perennials, it's imperative to provide adequate moisture to ensure against excessive wilt. (Some wilting during midday is tolerated.) Excessive wilt checks their development and stunts future growth. Watering may be accomplished by either of two methods, an oscillating fan sprinkler or a watering wand with a water breaker. A recent ORGANIC GARDENING article compared and evaluated many different brands and types of sprinklers as to the quality of coverage. The oscillating types were consistently better then most other types. My best recommendation would be the GARDENA® line of oscillating sprinklers. The DRAMM® watering wand with a water breaker allows for the full volume application of water with a gentle low pressure flow. While it's impossible to state how long a fan sprinkler should be kept running to water a given area, I can tell you how to measure it. I cannot say how long to water due to variable water pressures, hose diameters, brand of sprinklers and soil types. These variables impact on the time required to supply the necessary water. In the area to be watered, strategically locate open coffee or similarly shape cans or tins. The cans act as inexpensive rain gauges. Sprinkle for an hour and then measure the depth of the water in the tins. When ½ to 1" of water has been applied, you can calculate how much time is required to sprinkle an area to supply it with a given amount of water. Generally, newly installed plants require approximately ½" of water every three days. If you use a wand, apply water directly around the base of each of the newly installed plants saturating the soil, about 15 to 30 second per plant. Once the plants are established, in 2-3 weeks, water should be applied only when necessary. Watering in the morning, so the foliage can dry before nightfall, aids in the reduction of molds and mildews. The above watering program assumes some type of mulch; such as shredded or chipped bark mulch has been applied to the garden. Generally a well-established perennial garden requires no more than 1" of water per week applied in 1/2" increments. Any natural precipitation over 2/10" should be considered when calculating the amount of supplemental watering. Avoid soggy soils. Woody ornamentals and lawns should be watered according to our respective handouts. >Spring rains generally provide very adequate moisture, but spring droughts do occur. Watering your `Red Riding Hood' Tulips, `Mount Hood' Daffodils and Double Flowering Bloodroot may be required. This is the exception to the rule. Watering the perennial garden in March was required during the Spring of 1987, 1988 and 1996. During the first Winter, I strongly recommend the soil freeze with adequate moisture to prevent winter dehydration of the root stocks. Usually one does not need to concern yourself with Autumn moisture, as it is generally adequate. Establishing perennials with an in-ground automatic irrigation system is not recommended and may void certain guarantees. Please call me for further information.
Perennial garden cultivation should consider the following. 1) SOIL MOISTURE. Tilling the soil, usually cause a rapid decline in moisture, often decreasing the moisture available to your plants. 2) SOIL TEMPERATURE. Cultivating and allowing the soil to dry generally results in an increased soil temperature. This may or may not be beneficial depending upon the air temperature, exposure and plants. 3) HUMUS CONTENT. When humus is exposed to sunlight, water and/or wind (air), it is eroded from the soil. Many other natural factors can also cause soil humus decline. 4) ROOT DAMAGE. The fine feeder roots of plants are easily damaged by just walking on the soil let alone a sharp spade. 5) STUNTING. With any of the above, alone or in any combination wilting often occurs causing a reduction in stems, leaves, flowers and fruits. 6) COMPACTION. Walking, machinery and pets often squeeze the air out of the soil causing the plant’s roots to suffocate along with the soil's organic life. 7) WEED SEEDS. When opening-up a soil, we often expose viable weed seeds that have been around for a long time, some as long as 20 or more years. 8) BIO‑MASS DISRUPTION. A pinch of soil may contain a billion organisms that are tied to each other in quite a delicate balance. Changing the soil's environment rapidly causes changes in its biomass. 9) BOTTOM SOIL. Micro-fine structured clays usually make up deeper soils. Heavy clay soils provide a difficult medium for plants, but it can be modified. Clay plus humus plus coarse sand plus time equals an enrich soil. To modify a clay soil, add coarse sand (non-limestone sand), gypsum and large annual quantities of humus and -- time. A Penn. State study demonstrated that soils annually enriched with 3" of LEAVES increased production up to 150%. Pile shredded leaves on the garden in November for the perfect Winter mulch ‑‑ 2 to 4" deep. Lightly mulch around those plants that have evergreen foliage throughout the Winter. These include Creeping phlox -- Phlox subulata, Woodland phlox -- P. stolonifera (very sensitive to mulch cover), Pulmonaira longifolia, Heuchera, Tiarella, Geranium `Ballerina’, Campanula, Paxistima, Euonymus fortunie, Asarum europaeum and many others. In Spring, when we clean up the garden, if less then 1‑2" of leaves remains, don't remove them for they will disintegrate by the Autumn. If more than 2" remain on the garden, remove the excess and compost or remove from on top of the plants and use as Summer mulch. I often `frost the garden’ debris with shredded bark mulch. A ½” layer of mulch covers all the debris, enhancing the garden. 10) DECISION. I will let that up to you. Each, of the above, has been a study by itself. Summer The `Peeping Tom' Daffodils and the `Aladdin' Tulips have finished blooming and the seed pods have formed. Removal of these pods allows the leaves to store more energy for next year's blooms. If there are no pods, it is unnecessary to remove anything. Eight weeks after blooming, remove the foliage by CUTTING it off at ground level. It is unnecessary to wait until it has completely turned brown. When many perennials are finished blooming, removal of the spent flower heads generally extends, and occasionally allows for additional blooming. In some plants, such as Garden Phlox, removal of the seed heads is highly recommended as the seed reverts to the wild forms, gradually crowding out the prized cultivars.
Many different options exist for
summer soil mulches. The most commonly available mulch is leaves, as
COLOR TEXT. LIFE COST BIO. NUTR. WATER MAIN.
Grass Clippings Tan Medium 1 "0" + + Repels Little
Composted Bark3 M. Brown Fine 1‑3 Med. ++++ + Med. Ave.
Shredded Bark3 M. Brown Medium 2‑3 Med. ++++ +++ Med. Ave.
Shredded Wood Gray Coarse 3‑5 Med. ++++ + Med. Ave.
Chunk Bark4 Gray Medium + 3‑5 High + o Float Little.
Leaves5 Brown Medium + 1 "0" ++++ +++ High. Ave.+
Black Plastic1 Black Hard 1‑2 High o o Repels Little
Clear Plastic1 Clear Hard 1‑2 High o o Repels Ave.
Fabrics2 Gray Hard 12 Med. o o High Little
Aluminum Foil Silver Hard 1 High o o Repels Med.+
Newspapers Tan Hard 3‑4 Mo. "0" ++ + Repels Med.+
Cocoa Husks Brown Fine 1‑2 High + + High Ave.
Corn Cobs Gray Med. 2‑3 Low ++ - High Ave.
Oat/Rice Hulls Lt. Tan Fine 1‑2 Med. ++ ++ High Ave.
Pine Cones Dk. Brown. Coarse 2‑5 Low + + High Little
Conifer Needles Brown Fine+ 2‑4 High + + High Little
Peat Moss Lt. Brown Fine 1 High ++ o Float Med.+
Sphagnum Lt. Brown Med. 1 High ++++ + Float Med.+
Mosses Misc. Med‑ 1‑2 Vary ++++ ++ High Med.
+ = Positive - = Negative o = None
COLOR Average color after aging.
WYMAN'S GARDENING ENCY. Donald Wyman 1977 FLOWERS `A Guide for Your Garden' Pizzetti and Cocker 1968
ENCY. OF GARDEN PLANTS Linda Fox ed. 1978 THE COMPLETE SHADE GARDENER George Schenk 1984
HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS Giles, Keith and Saupe 1980 HERBACEOUS ORNAMENTAL PLANTS Dr. Steven Still
THE NATURAL SHADE GARDEN Ken Druse 1992 HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS Allan M. Armitage 1997 2nd edition
PERENNIALS FOR AMER. GARDENS R. Clausen & N. Ekstrom 1989
When using any book or magazine, please remember that very few books were ever written on PERENNIAL GARDENING IN THE MIDWEST. Keep this in mind, for many books will promise things that cannot exist in our climate.
Thank You and Happy Gardening!
For further information please contact Landscape Designs, Inc. 233-4215
Written by Steve Lesch, President, Landscape Designs, Inc.