June arrives this week. For many years now, June has been designated as “Perennial Garden Month” by the Perennial Plant Association. The reasoning for this designation is described this way by the association: “After the mad rush of spring planting and garden maintenance, it is a relief to take a more leisurely, yet studied, approach to the perennial garden during the month of June.”
I completely agree with this sentiment. May is a mad rush in the garden centers. Most shoppers are coming in for the flowers they already know they want: the annuals. Most of the time they are buying the same ones, year after year, because they have been successful with them. Success is always a great strategy.
Before we go any further, I should clarify the difference between annuals and perennials. Perennials are the flowering plants that are hardy enough to survive our winters. The top parts of the plants die back to the ground during the fall. The roots survive and produce a new plant the following spring.
Annuals are not hardy. Their life cycle is completed in a growing season. There are some annuals that might be perennial in warmer climates, but not where we are. The greatest advantage of annuals is that they continually bloom throughout their growing cycle. Perennials, for the most part, have limited blooming periods.
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This is why you need “a more leisurely, yet studied, approach to the perennial garden.” You can have a perennial garden that continually blooms, but it requires planning. To achieve a continually blooming perennial garden, you will need help making your selections at the garden store.
Every garden store will have at least 100 or more different varieties to choose from, in all shapes, sizes and colors. There will be ones that prefer the hot sun. If you have deep shade, you will find perennials that will grow where almost everything else will not. There are many that grow between the hot sun and deep shade.
Having so many options is exactly why you need time to make your choices. The perfect perennial garden will contain plants that bloom in spring, summer and fall. If you have a large garden, you want the design to be “layered” with the tall plants in the back and short ones in front, just like your grade school class picture.
A perennial garden is also where you can make great strides working toward sustainability. There are a lot of native plant choices when it comes to perennials. There are also many perennial plants that are great for pollinators. A perfect pollinator garden is a combination of perennials and shrubs to attract the butterflies, moths, bees and other pollinating insects.
When you are planning a perennial garden, you will need to make sure you leave room for the plants to grow. The body of the plant is sometimes referred to as a “clump.” Over time, as the plant grows, the clumps get much thicker. As this is happening you will naturally get more blooms, but you don’t want your perennial garden to become overcrowded with plants growing into each other.
When the perennial garden becomes too crowded, it may be necessary to go through and divide many of the plants. Plant division is a process of going in and cutting out part of the plant to make it smaller. Doing this gives the remaining plant more room to grow.
The other reward to dividing perennials is the part you cut out can be replanted. It is very common for perennial gardeners to share plants with each other through this process. The best time for dividing perennials is in the early spring when they first start to pop out of the ground.