Perennials are long-living plants. Some hardy species can easily outlive four generations of Gardeners without the need to replanting! And their native and rather more ‘wild’ relations have been the wild flowers that first arrived here on Earth during the Pliocene Period at least 5.3 million years ago. A few date all the way back to the Oligocene Period almost 34 million years ago. In all that time they have never missed a beat in Natures time!
These ancient wildflowers that grace the fields, grasslands, meadows and woodlands of the entire world represent the essence from which most ‘modern’ perennial plants have originated. As well as being very attractive, many Perennials have edible, insecticidal/herbicidal and/or medicinal qualities. They also form the background of many of the most beautiful and classic flowering gardens, especially in temperate climates worldwide. Perennials are the backbone of most cottage gardens and many wildflower meadows and woodland gardens. They also enhance the very finest designs and displays in the world’s best-kept Asian, contemporary, European and Western style gardens.
The great botanist and author, Norman Taylor once called them “the encouragement of the beginning gardener, the stay of the advanced one”. Their variety and beauty grace gardens great and humble. Generous and prolific growth and multiplication means they may be divided and shared giving them a true social value. And they have an emotional component as well possible best said by Lady Bird Johnsons’ comment about perennial and annual flowers, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
Most hardy perennials are easily grown, very economical and quite rewarding. The favourable growing conditions of High Spring (Late Spring) are an excellent time to transplant established Perennials from containers. Some will already be in flower while the rest will probably bloom later in the season. Perennials are so very hardy that they can be planted or sown from seed with attention and a little extra care at almost any time. But in Late Spring the abundance of moisture, increasing light and warmth combined with a long growing season ahead, make the ideal time to transplant advanced plants from containers and start Perennials from seed or seedlings
This is possible the best time of the entire year to sow Perennial seed. A single packet of seed can produce more than 100 plants! Because Perennial seed is often genetically variable, a single packet of seed can often produce a wide variety of beautiful and interesting off-spring. When well grown and managed, these can produce more-than-enough high quality Perennial plants for the garden with more to give as gifts to Gardening Friends or perhaps sell as a means of compensating for the cost and time spent growing them.
Sow Perennial seed rather thinly. While it can be easily sown direct into the garden where the plants are meant to grow, best success usually results by sowing into containers, individual small pots or into seedling flats for pricking out into individual pots later. That is because their seed is often very small, can be erratic or slow to germinate and is sometimes considered edible, especially by Ants and other insects and some Rodents, Slugs and Snails frequently find the young seedlings quite delectable.
When sowing Perennial seed, use a good quality potting mix or a seed raising mix to which a small quantity of slow release fertiliser has been added. Many Perennials naturally grow in alkaline soils so adding a small dusting of dolomite Lime to the mix is sometimes helpful. And if the seedlings are a sort that is slow to germinate or needs continual damp or humid conditions, dust over the mix with Captan or Sulphur powder to eliminate the possibility of fungus or moss encroaching on the surface of the mix or affecting the young seedlings.
Before sowing the seed into containers or flats, it is best to thoroughly wet the mix first. Then sow the seed lightly over the moistened earth. Cover the seed with a little extra fine soil no deeper than three times the depth of the seed. Mist over this very lightly again to thoroughly moisten the soil. Now place the flat or container in a bright, humid and warm position away from chilling drafts or drying and scalding sunlight. A cold frame or glasshouse bench is often ideal, or a protected nursery area, or even any sheltered spot near a damp, humid water source will do, especially when this faces into ‘soft’ morning sun up to midday warmth.
Germination may be erratic. Sometimes it is nearly instantaneous, dependent upon the variety sown. Be patient and prepare to wait, as often seed will continue to germinate for several weeks or even months. Growth is often rather slow at first. So plan to maintain the containers in active growth for at least several months before the seedlings are advanced enough to transplant into the garden. Usually when transplanting seedling Perennials into their final growing position in the garden, it is easier to transplant advanced seedlings with a well-established root system rather than fragile and small plantlets that often become overwhelmed by the extremes of weather and the competing growth of surrounding plants.
Perennial seed also can be sown directly into the garden bed soil where the plants are meant to grow. This is sometimes the best alternative when growing Perennial plants that have a taproot and are therefore sometimes more difficult to transplant. When sown direct, they often grow faster and stronger when started from seed and allowed to grow-on naturally without the disturbance and set-back of transplanting. Examples of taproots Perennials include: Aquilegia (Columbine), Asclepias (Butterfly Weed), Papaver orientale (Oriental Poppy) and Platycodon grandiflora (Balloon Flower) plus many more.
First work the soil to a fine tilth. Lighten heavy soils by adding gravel or sand sometimes peat will work, too. Enrich light soils with compost or peat and possibly dolomite Lime for those preferring a higher pH. Make sure that the finished top soil layer is even, light, porous and smooth. A somewhat gravelly or sandy top layer is often more receptive to seed germination than a solid loam that can form a ‘hard-pan’ layer over the top.
Sprinkle the seed very lightly and thinly over the seed bed. When in doubt about what the emerging Perennial seedling sprouts will look like; and to easily identify them from weed seedlings which are bound to come up too, sow the seed thinly in lines as far apart as the mature perennials would naturally grow next to each other in the garden bed. Put in small sticks or stake a string line along each row so the emerging Perennial seedlings will be easily identifiable from the weeds.
Just like when sowing into containers or flats, cover the seed lightly, at most about three times the thickness of the seed. Water gently and evenly every other day whenever conditions become dry, hot and/or windy; otherwise just be sure the seed bed remains somewhat moist. Overwatering can be as deadly as drying out! Germination is quicker in sheltered, partly shaded and warmer spots. Once seedlings germinate, keep the bed moist and well weeded.
Tap rooted seedlings as well as most others that have come up very close together may need some thinning out to insure healthy and stronger plants. These thinnings and those from more robust and stronger perennial species that are more easily shifted can be transplant once seedlings have one or two sets of true leaves or more.
Tap root varieties tend to shift most easily while they are very young before the tap root has fully emerged. Transplanting is best done during cloudy, cool, damp weather. Water-in the transplant immediately and keep the soil moist but not sodden and wet. It is best to adopt a positive ‘mercy’ transplant attitude when attempting to shift tap-rooted seedlings from in-ground plantings where root damage is inevitable. Many may not survive or can be permanently stunted when compared to tap-roots Perennials sown direct and not transplanted and those shifted from containers with little root disturbance. But it is always worth a try and better than throwing them away!
Perennial seedlings started this Spring and early Summer will probably start flowering next year. Some varieties take longer but at least within a year there will be a substantial Perennial plant in that position.
Anchusa (Perennial Forget-Me-Not), Arabis (Rock Cress), Aster (Perennials), Chrysanthemum, Diasica, Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Gypsophila, Japanese Anemone, Liatris (Gay Feather) Leucanthemum (Shasta Daisy), Phlox, Stokesia (Perennial Bachelor Button) and many more Perennial species can be increased from root cuttings. First dig up a clump or at least a corner of a Perennial clump. Locate a healthy and strong root where the vegetative crown meets the root stock. Then with a sharp knife cut from just below where the crown vegetation meets the root and lift this root away from the plant. Cut this root into 5cm/2inch lengths. Make sure to identify the top and bottom of the root!
Immediately place these root cuttings into a container, pot or deep seedling flat filled full of seed raising or good quality potting mix. It is most important that the larger top end of the root cutting points upward or upright. If in doubt about which end is up or down, simply place the pieces of root on their sides. Then cover over the root tops with 1-2.5cm/.5-1 inch of seed-raising or potting soil. Then moisten the mix and keep moist but not wet. The root cuttings usually strike better when they are entirely submerged just below ground level, but some will even strike when poking through the soil surface. If kept humid, moist and warm, each root cutting should develop a new plant fairly quickly. Within 6-12 weeks, or sometimes even less time, these can be shifted on into individual pots for growing on or sometimes will be strong enough to plant directly into their growing positions.
Most Perennials can also be started from cuttings. Late Spring is also a good time to start these, too. The easiest are usually Perennials that either creep along the ground like Ivy, Plectranthus and Sedum, or produce fleshy or woody branches, canes or stems like Angel Wing Begonia, Chrysanthemum, Fuchsia, Impatiens or Marguerite Daisy.
First select a healthy and strong stem from the sunny side or top of the plant. Cut this into 3-5in/7.5-12.5cm lengths; sometimes slightly larger cuttings are the easiest to strike, especially if the plant is somewhat fleshy or flimsy like Impatiens.
Remove all the bottom leaves from the stem cutting and also pinch out the tender growing tip leaving only two or three healthy leaves on the cutting stick. Some Gardeners then immerse the base of each cutting into hormone gel or powder to speed root development. Place (don’t push) the cuttings into a dibble hole in a seedling flat or rest them against the inside edge of a garden pot partially filled with seed raising mix or a mix of peat and propagating sand that has been pre-moistened. Pushing the stem ends into the soil mix will wipe away the hormone gel and/or push bacteria-laden dirt into the exposed vascular bundles of the cut and can result in bacterial or fungal rot.
Once the cuttings are in place, carefully fill in around each cutting with more mix. Place the flat in a bright (but not hot and sunny), humid and constantly warm environment. If a pot of cuttings is being started, the entire pot can be placed in a similar environment. Alternatively, place the pot of cuttings inside a clear/translucent plastic bag which is then drawn up around it to create a small terrarium.
Mature Perennial clumps are normally divided every three years once they go dormant Late Autumn to Spring. Usually the healthy, strong, younger growths toward the outside of the clump are either cut away or hand-divided and prepared for replanting while the older central sections are disguarded. Those who want to increase the lot may find that by replanting the older section as a clump that it may regenerate and produce new side shoots. But often it doesn’t amount to much and this is why many experienced Gardens return the old and tired parts to the compost pile.
The healthy and strong younger sections should be replanted as soon as possible. When planting they should be returned to well-composted, fertilised and manured ground where they will remain undisturbed for several more years. There is only one chance to get this right so it is best to spend the time to produce excellent results in the future.
Make sure they are replanted at the same depth and level as they were growing in their original clump position. When planted too deeply or if the surrounding soil subsides to create a depression that catches water, the newly planted Perennial is liable to rot unless it is a species that prefers swampy ground. Most Perennial species prefer full sun to partial shade. Ferns, some groundcovers and bold, broad-leafed plants like Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley) and Hosta can withstand nearly full light shade but still perform much better with several hours of daily sunshine.
Once transplanted, cultivate lightly but frequently especially in dry weather. Make sure to remove all weeds. Watch for any signs of disease or rotting. Remove all dying or yellowing leaves regularly, especially during the early stages of growth. This helps remove the potential sites for disease and insect/predation. If Summer weather is usually dry and hot, provide a generous mulch to preserve moist and cool the soil.
By far the best way to start new Perennials with the greatest ease is when they are planted from advanced container plants. This can be accomplished with every chance of success throughout the entire Spring season and also Autumn into Early Winter in milder climates not experiencing heavy freezing.
Mid and Late Spring is an excellent time to transplant advanced established Perennials from containers. The land is warm, sunlight is strong and rainfall is usually generous or at least regular and the plants are in active growth. Usually these plants ‘hit the ground running’ and never look back!
Unlike Perennials which are being dug up from established clumps and replanted with considerable disturbance, those transplanted from containers should have little if any root damage. Thus, they are easily transplanted throughout much of the growing season. Leave the major Perennial clump wrenching to the cooler, damper, darker months when the Perennials are partially dormant. This way they have a much longer period of time to develop a new root system and become re-established before entering their next period of active growth.
Perennials look effective in a variety of different locations. They put on the best display when several of the same species are grouped together to make a bold clump crowned with a multitude of blooms in a similar form and colour shade. Mixed perennial selections have their place in the smaller border or garden that is viewed very close-up. Then each bloom is a treasure. But from a distance, a multitude of mixed colours and forms each planted separately often translates as a rather dull muddle and sometimes translates as almost brown/green/grey as all the colours tend to blend together.
In Perennial borders and gardens where the idea is to have something flowering throughout the growing season or (ideally) all year, consider first dividing the garden into large blocks on a grid map. Hypothetically, each block on the grid could be 1m/3.34ft square. Each quadrant of four blocks represents the four seasons: one block planted for each season. By planting a cluster of similar perennial species/varieties within a block, this creates an impressive display for that particular season. By planting four adjacent blocks, each planned for a different seasonal display, it is possible to always have an impressive block of colour in bloom all year. In smaller gardens the same theory applies, just plant fewer numbers of similar flowering Perennial species for each flowering season.
Tie the various seasonal blocks of flowering Perennial colour together with flowering Annual groundcovers like Alyssum, Malcolmia, Virginia Stock, or use brighter splashes of seasonal Annual flowers or Perennial groundcovers like Creeping Phlox, Convallaria, Mondo Grass, Veronica, Vinca minor (Periwinkle); also add vivid splashes of flowering bulbs, etc. Solid sweeps of colour in pale blue, pink and purple shades; light yellow or white flowers as well as green foliage have a magic ability to unify otherwise clashing blocks of colour.
Bright colour shades can be separated not only with drifts of white flowers but also grey, silver & especially deep green foliage. Or use architectural plants like silvery spikes of Astellia, Cordyline, Flax or Yucca to create contrast and diversion. Also consider dividing potentially clashing colour combinations with the effective placement of garden art sculpture, benches and seating, fountains or pools which will add both decorative interests that classically enhance all the very best qualities that Perennials add to the garden.
Most certainly Perennials are the main-stay that enhances almost any garden feature or landscape design. There is no question that perennials carry a character and charm that makes a classic garden ‘forever beautiful’. And guaranteed as the Earth spinning ‘round, beautiful perennials will forever be here.
November is an ideal time to plant annuals, biennial, herbs for summer/autumn gardens also main crop veggies(tomato, melon, squash, beans, etc.) Try alyssum, aster, balsam, basil, chrysanthemum, cornflower, cosmos, dahlia, marigold, nasturtium, sunflower, zinnia & much more. These flowers make a great children’s garden. Keep tropicals well fed & watered. Lightly prune for shape. Plant caladium, canna, dahlia, gerbera, gladioli, & tuberous begonia.
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