Practical Permaculture – Caring for Herbaceous Perennials

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“My Walkway” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Heliopsis literally means sun “helios” appearance “opsis” in Greek…

July is the time of the year I switch out of planting mode… Although I will still do some planting as the summer progresses to fall… My main priority is now focusing on maintenance…

As with any plant… Perennials have their likes and dislikes… Some are more adaptive than others… However… For the best results… Provide a perennial with its preferred growing conditions, paying particular attention to the soil type and sun exposure. Water your perennial beds if rainfall is scarce… Mulch the soil well to retain moisture, slow down weeds, and keep the flowers and foliage free of dirt. Fertilization should also be considered, it should be done once or twice a year for best results.

Once you have provided the ideal growing conditions for your perennial plants, and annuals for that matter, there is little else you can do for your plants. Perennials are not difficult to grow, but they will be extremely rewarding for years to come if you just take a few simple steps to ensure that they look and perform their best.

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“Brightening Blight” – © chriscondello 2013 – The Garden Table Urban Garden – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Daylily are not the fastest selling plant a nursery typically stocks… It is not uncommon to purchase a potted plants that is so root bound it appears as if the soil is gone… The secret to dividing this plant is to put the root ball on the ground… And with some pressure roll it back and forth… This will typically untangle the root mass in just a few moments…

Staking

Some perennials need to be staked so they grow straight and tall instead of flopping over on their neighbors. Staking also prevents plants from being broken by the wind and rain or weighted to the ground with heavy blossoms. The staking method should depend on the form of the plant. The best stakes are inconspicuous and easy to install… Green or brown material look best. Position the stakes early, before the plant needs them, so the foliage grows up and around the stake, making it inconspicuous.

Tall plants with slender, unbranched flower stalks, like foxglove and Delphinium, call for individual stakes to support each stem. Drive a bamboo or wooden stake into the ground besides the stem and loosely fasten the stem to the stake with a loop of twine. As the plant grows, add more ties at one foot intervals. The length of the stake should be three-quarters of the plants final height.

Clump-forming plants with many bushy, branched stems, such as aster, Shasta daisy, and chrysanthemum, can be supported with a ring of twine that’s attached to three to five steaks positioned around the clump. As the plant grows, add higher rings of twine in one foot intervals. The stems and flowers will bend outward and rest on the twine, covering it naturally. As another alternative, support the plants with small, twiggy branches cut from small trees or shrubs, a strategy called pea staking, or brush staking.

Staking your plants really isn’t an exact science, tons of products are available on the market including many “tomato-cage” style products. In all honesty, the tomato cages bought at the store are great for staking herbaceous perennials and annual flowers… But not tomatoes… My favorite tomato cage product is heavy-duty rebar mesh available at any construction supply store. This stuff is heavy-duty, will last five to ten years, and is tall enough to actually support a tomato plant throughout the entire year.

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“Tomato Soup” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Once established… These plants are extremely drought-resistant thanks to the fact that this plant can send a rather beefy taproot deep into the soil… I have seen Echinacea grow upwards of four-feet tall when grown in more shade than sun…

Cutting Back and Pruning

You can help tall, lanky plants grow more compactly and possibly avoid the need for staking by pinching them back. In spring, when summer bloomers such as balloonflowers or milky bellflowers are about eight inches tall, break off the growing tip of each stem by snapping it between your fingers or cutting it with handheld shears.

Late-summer and fall-blooming plants, such as asters, can be cut back twice. To make them bushier and lower, cut them back by half… First when they are four inches tall and again at sixteen inches tall. Chrysanthemums need to be pinched at two-week intervals until midsummer for prolific blooming and to keep them compact… Simply use your fingers to break off the tips of the stems above the first or second set of leaves.

You may also want to prune back some perennials after they bloom to tidy up or simply reduce their height. If a plants foliage looks shabby from mildew or exhausted after blooming. Cut it back to the base as long as you see new growth. The new stems will produce healthy, fresh foliage. Use hedge shears to cut back masses of stems and foliage.

Pinch or rub off side flower buds or branches of perennials such as peony, chrysanthemum, and hibiscus to channel the plants energy into a few large blossoms rather than numerous small ones. Remove the extras while they are mere suggestions of buds. This debudding practice creates larger, showier blossoms.

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“Anne Arett” – © chriscondello 2013 – Micro Hosta – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – So my girlfriend and I collect Hosta… But we especially love the mini and micro varieties… This particular flower is from the “Anne Arett” Variety… It is lime green… And the leaves are thin and frazzled like the famous “Electrocution” variety… Which we also grow…

Deadheading

After perennials bloom, cut off faded flowers or flower stalks unless they will produce decorative seed heads. Deadheading keeps the garden tidy and directs the plants energy into its roots and leaves than into seed formation. If you are trying to propagate your plants, let them go to seed and do nothing… Nature will take over… Cut leafy flower stems right above the foliage for a neat appearance… Cut off leafless stems at ground level.

Removing spent flowers encourages more flowers… For example, pinching off the blossoms of balloonflower and coreopsis as they fade encourages more flowers to appear on the same stems, lengthening the blooming period. Cutting off the entire spent flower head on garden phlox or delphinium encourages side branches with a flush of new flowers a month after the first. If you don’t know if a plant will rebloom after deadheading, try it for crying out loud… That’s how I’m learning… Oh yeah… Then send me an email…

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“Green Jewel” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – An all green variety of Echinacea… Just one of the many colors of Echinacea that are being released every year…

Dividing Perennials

Most perennials, with a few exceptions, slowly decline in vigor unless they are divided every few years. Plant division rejuvenates the plant, and it provides more plants. Replant the divisions near one another so they make a dramatic drift. Or, plant them in a different location and establish a new bed.

As a general rule of thumb, divide spring-blooming plants immediately after they flower. Divide summer and fall bloomer in early spring when they have around three inches of fresh top growth. However, in the south, southwest, and Midwest, it’s advantageous to divide spring and summer bloomers in the fall so they can readjust in the cooler weather as opposed to the blistering heat associated with summer in these particular localities. Wherever you live, divide plants at least four weeks before stressful weather arrives, so their roots can have a chance to resume normal growth.

Some plants, such as Shasta daisy and chrysanthemum, have shallow, fibrous root systems. Once the clump is dug up, you can pull it apart into many sections with your hands. Other plants, such as astilbe, have tough, woody roots that grow in a tangled mass. Study the top growth to locate the individual crowns, then drive the tip of a spade between the crowns, cutting the clump into sections.

To minimize the damage to the root systems of fleshy-rooted plants such as daylily and hosta, use garden forks to divide them. Insert the forks back-to-back in the middle of the clump, then pull the forks outward, prying the clump into two pieces.

Fast growing plants will need to be divided more frequently than slow growers. A plant’s appearance tells you when it needs dividing. A clump resembling a doughnut, with active growth on the outer edges, but a dead center… Needs to be divided.

Before replanting the divisions, replenish the nutrients in the soil. Fork over the soil and add organic material if available… Basically, just don’t put the plant back in the same soil that caused the problem. Plant divisions as soon as possible to protect them from drying air and sun. If you can replant immediately, “heel in” the division in a temporary site or a pot… Covering the roots lightly with moist soil… Until you can plant… Water newly planted divisions and mulch the soil around them…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

I now have prints available to purchase online… You can find them here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – This site… And all the photographs and information presented within… Are provided free by the author… Me… At one time I had considered asking for donations… But that’s not me… So I have decided to sell prints of some of my photography… It is by no means a requirement… But it helps… If you have a few minutes to check them out… Then by all means… Please do…

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