Perennials are plants that live for 3 years or more, though not necessarily forever. When they first became popular a few years back they were touted as low-maintenance plants and compared to annuals, they are — they require less watering and fertilizing (as a group) and of course don’t have to be replanted every year. But no-maintenance? Uh-uh. That’s because they spread, or need to be divided, and sometimes just up and die. So perennial borders require regular rearranging, but that’s a good thing if you like gardening — it’s creative! But all that rearranging IS work, in addition to the routine watering, weeding and mulching that perennial gardens need. (The plant group for truly low-maintenance gardens — approaching no maintenance — is shrubs and trees.)
Another good thing about perennials is all the free plants you get from most of them — either through division or because they self-sow. If you don’t want them, you can trade with other gardeners for plants you do want. (The great gardening tradition of “passalong plants”.)
The other important thing to know about perennials is that they’re NOT the plant group for impatient people, and this often-repeated ditty about them illustrates why. “First year, they sleep; second year, creep; third year leap.” That means that perennials often don’t look like much til their third year in the garden, and perennial borders are disappointing for that long, too. That’s another reason I recommend mixed borders — because shrubs can fill out the garden so much faster than perennials. (Plus, their woody structure provides some winter interest.)
Articles about Perennials on this Site
Perennials for Shade
Japanese Anemone, Aquilegia/Columbine, Astilbe, Begonia grandis — hardy begonia, Carex/Sedge, Dicentra spectabilis/Bleeding Heart, Epimedium/Barrenwort, Euphorbia amydaloides/Wood Spurge, Hakonechloa grass, Hellebore, Heuchera, Hostas, Polygonatum/Solomon’s Seal, Pulmonaria/Lungwort
Perennials I’ve Killed
- Monarda up and died after 3 years.
- Euphorbia ‘Martinii’ — they’re dying one by one.
- Foxglove — famously short-lived in much of the U.S.
- Stipa tenissma — a gorgeous short ornamental grass that I had high hopes for.
- Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ and others. They hate humidity.
- Plants I started from seed which never had much impact in the garden: Campanula carpatica, Veronica spicata and Catananche carentea and Linum perene (Blue flax).
Do the research and save your money on plants they’ll love. Here’s the best site I’ve found for good, detailed information on the subject. I’m new to the deer problem myself but at the end of one season these perennials survived the grazing deer in my garden: Euphorbia, Aster, ferns, purple coneflower, and astilbe.
Good Information in Print
- Grasses by Nancy Ondra and Saxon Holt
- Foliage by Nancy Ondra and Rob Cardillo
- Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan Armitage is definitive.
- The Well Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust is the best-selling book on how to make your perennials healthier and better-looking.
- Encyclopedia of Perennials by Graham Rice is exhaustive and an outstanding general resource on the subject.
- Designing with Perennials by Pamela Harper
- The Complete Flower Gardener by Cutler and Ellis is another source I consult regularly.
- The New Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebesch