Growing Perennial Flowers

With so many good gardening books out there (you've probably already read several of them) there's no point in me trying to write another. Even though, there are some important basics to follow.Gardening is a learning experience - no 2 years are alike and no 2 plants are alike. For me gardening is a creative outlet and trying new ideas and combinations of plants is what it's all about. Experiment! If a plant doesn't do well in one spot - move it till you find the spot you both love.But also be patient - the character of many plants will change as they mature. Here are 2 of the basics you shouldn't ignore:

  • Prepare Your Garden- If you're planting in the spring, it is best to have worked the beds last fall (right before you cut that firewood for the year 2020). But, it's not too late. Work the beds as deep as you can - even if I rototill, I like to get in there with a garden fork and loosen the soil as deep as possible. Mix in lots of organic matter - compost, manure (give it a month to age if it's fresh) or peat moss.Now is the time to add organic amendments - rock phosphate, bone meal, greensand, lime - as needed based on your soil test. You did get your soil tested, right. These types of fertilizers are slow acting and most like to be worked into the soil.

  • Plant perennials in groups- I ignored this one for years. I would find myself walking around the gardens with a trowel and my latest acquisition trying to find one more empty spot.If you're gardening in a small space, this may work; but, on a larger scale, these lone individuals inevitably get lost.Groups of 3 to 5 or more plants make a much more attractive display.In general, the further away you view the garden the larger the groupings.Plant in "drifts" - that is, flowing patterns instead of standard geometrical shapes allowing the different types of plants to intermingle.Don't forget the foliage - you'll be seeing more of this than the flowers. A mix of textures will be more interesting to the eye.
  • Fertilize!(Okay 3 things) If you want anything like those pictures you've been looking at, the garden going to need some extra juice. There are lots of options both organic and non-organic. As everyone will tell you - start with a soil test! After you've worked some slow release fertilizers into the soil, liquid fertilizers or faster acting commercial fertilizers work well during the growing season.

Now that I think about it, there's also:

  • Sun Exposure- This one can be real tricky and to get a true picture you need to watch an area and record the amount of sun it gets throughout the year. A spot that seems shady in March may be in full sun by July or August. In addition to quantity there's quality. Afternoon sun is much more intense than morning sun.Many hosta enjoy a bit of sun in the early morning but will fade or burn given a dose of late afternoon sun.In judging the type of sun you have you can go by the following:

Sun = at least 6 hours of direct sun between 10AM and 6 PM

Partial sun = 2 hours of direct sun or dappled all day sun

Shade = Indirect light from heavy tree canopy

  • And a few more gardening tips:

  • OBSERVE - try to take a regular walks around your gardens.It's a good idea to have pruning shears with you and do some touch-up while you go. This is a good time to catch any problems that may be developing, gather some new inspiration or just relax.

  • SHEARING - fall blooming perennials can be cut back to 1/2 their height to encourage more flowers and make them bushier and less floppy - no later than 8 weeks before the bloom time. Spring bloomers can be cut back after they bloom to make a neater plant for the rest of the season.

  • DEADHEADING - you can prolong the bloom season by removing the spent flower heads just above the next node.

  • THINNING - many tall varieties benefit from thinning out some of the stems (cut to the ground). This will improve air circulation thus reducing the chance of disease and mildew and may give you larger flowers on the remaining stems.This is all but essential with tall garden phlox though many of the new resistant varieties are forgiving.

  • MULCH - I'm a big fan of mulch which not only controls weeds but also continues to add organic matter to the soil. I usually use leaves or grass clipping the first year before going to bark or wood chips.

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