Got some sunshine in your yard? Get some perennials! Well, not right now. Now is the time to be planning and preparing for fall planting. Fall is the best time to plant perennials, and perennials are the perfect choice for bringing life and color into your garden.
Life, you say? Flowering perennials can be thought of as the life of the (garden) party. Perennials—plants that live longer than two years—provide food and habitat to the birds, bees, butterflies, and all other pollinators.
This morning I came across an article by Douglas Tallamy that was printed in the New York Times early this spring. In it, Tallamy states:
“Plants are as close to biological miracles as a scientist could dare admit. After all, they allow us, and nearly every other species, to eat sunlight, by creating the nourishment that drives food webs on this planet. As if that weren’t enough, plants also produce oxygen, build topsoil and hold it in place, prevent floods, sequester carbon dioxide, buffer extreme weather and clean our water. Considering all this, you might think we gardeners would value plants for what they do. Instead, we value them for what they look like.”
Pretty amazing stuff when you think about it. Plants are amazing, and flowering perennials do their share of the work load as well as fill the garden with beauty.
I planted a perennial bed last fall. I want to take you on a journey to see just how I did it and what it looks like today, less than one year later. Just a word of warning…you are going to want to do this, too!
Many of you have seen what I started with. The house I purchased two years ago sits on a corner with the vast majority of the property to the side of the house. This side yard was a blank slate…Bermuda grass and two Japanese maples arbitrarily plunked down somewhat near the middle.
I started by giving the lawn a shape—a required design rule (see Give Your Lawn a Shape)—and getting rid of Bermuda grass. I could use any number of expletives to describe this process since Bermuda reaches down to the depths of Hell for its sustenance, but essentially I tackled this with a tiller and a rake. I’m not a fan of wide-scale use of Roundup, so while we had some hot weather, I tilled, raked up the grass, and tilled again. With each pass I dug deeper to get as many roots as possible. I then raked those roots up and any left overs were baked in the heat of the sun.
After allowing the tilling mess to sit for a couple of weeks, I edged the bed to prevent roots from sneaking in again and to give the bed a neat appearance. I used the black plastic contractor edging since it is the widest edging I could find (nearly six inches—necessary for Bermuda roots) and once the plants spill over, you won’t be able to see it.
I dug soil out around the edge and corner of the bed and replaced it with rock to deal with a drainage issue in the corner of the bed. This took care of excessive runoff from the sidewalk and off the carport roof.
Nurseries occasionally get their seasons backwards and stock a wide variety of perennials in the spring but few in the fall. If you find this to be the case, be sure to ask your nursery to stock a greater variety in the fall. I snatched up as many as I could find last fall.
I planted these perennials at the beginning of October. I then heavily mulched with the “mulch” I get at the city landfill that is full of leaves, grass clippings, and shredded tree limbs. It breaks down very quickly and feeds the soil. The plants must then be watered in and kept watered until they become established.
As fall set in and winter was nearing, I covered the bed with a very thick layer of leaves. During the winter, perennials direct their energy into growing strong and healthy roots so it is important to protect the roots. Leaf mulch is nature’s best kept secret. I fill every bed with as many leaves as possible. The leaves keep the roots warm and hold in moisture. As they break down over the winter, they feed the soil. The worms love it and all kinds of insects use the leaves for shelter during the winter.
Spring is a wonderful time in the perennial bed as new growth emerges from under the leaves. The bed is already looking full mid-spring as perennials tend to emerge every year more full than the year before.
It is early summer and the beds have really filled in. I added some milkweed and fennel as host plants for some butterflies.
It is such a joy to look out my office window everyday to see this bed. It really is no secret as to how much I love these plants. I just can’t figure out why every yard isn’t filled with this kind of color.
As time passes, this bed will become even more full. Perennials often reseed or spread via roots, so there will be very few bare spots. This is good for weed control and the insects that find safety down in the bed.
The following is a list of the plants that are in the bed:
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- Guara (Gaura lindheimeri)
- Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
- Speedwell (Veronica)
- Chaste Tree (Vitex)
- Red Fountain Grass (Penisetum chino rojo)
- May Night Sage (Salvia ‘May Night’)
- Cherry Sage (Salvia greggi)
- Coreopsis (two varieties…can’t remember the cultivars)
- Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea)
- Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
- Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea)
- Stokes Aster (Stokesia laevis)
- Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
I’m planning a very large perennial bed for the fall. I need to get some seeds started so it won’t cost me a bloody fortune in plants! Please share your experiences with perennials and which ones you can’t live without!
Now get out there and put that sunshine to work!