10 Oct Perennial Beds & Borders

Are you overloaded with new ideas for perennial beds and borders after visiting friends or public coral-orange-coneflowerMFdisplay gardens? Seen lots of unfamiliar and interesting new plants at the nursery? If so, fall is an excellent time to prepare new beds for planting now or in the spring. The cooler temperatures, weaker sunlight and shorter days of fall mean less energy goes into top growth and more into establishing a strong root system. Planting in this area can usually continue through October and sometimes even into November.

Prepare Your Perennial Bed

After marking off an area for your perennial bed , you need to rid it of perennial weeds. Rototilling will only increase your weed crop, so you will need to carefully pull all underground stems and roots. Be sure to also remove any additional roots you find when you turn the soil over.

Important considerations for a successful perennial bed include choosing the proper plants for your location. For example, take into account plant hardiness, the amount of available light and proper soil preparation.

Soil Preparation

The soil you’re aiming to create should hold moisture, but also be well drained. If it doesn’t drain well now, it probably has high clay content. The actual soil particles are very small and pack together very closely, suffocating and drowning plant roots. If your soil drains very quickly and you need to water frequently, it is probably sandy. Soil particles are relatively large and fit together loosely. Plants rarely drown in sandy soil unless the area is low-lying or the water line is high. In this instance it would be best to make a raised bed.

The solution, both for maintaining good drainage and moisture retention, is generous amounts of organic matter. It separates clay particles, creating air space, and holds water and nutrients in sand. Good sources of organic matter are finished compost, well-decomposed manure, leaf mold and damp peat moss. These should be incorporated into the soil when it is turned over to a depth of 12″ or more. At this time you can also remove any sizable rocks, roots or other debris.

Plant Selection & Placement

Remember, for more visual impact, plant in groups of three.  Planting just one of each, does not give you any impact and can make your perennial garden look rather hodgepodge. For more natural looking arrangements, stagger the plants within in each group and try not to line them up in rows. That is just too regimented and nature would never grow like that.  Keep in mind that all three specimens should be visible from the same location.

Planting a perennial bed or border in the shade can be just as rewarding as planting one in the sun. There are lots of fern, hosta, astilbe and bleeding heart varieties to choose from. Full sun beds have the added benefit of attracting butterflies.

Most perennials grow best in a soil that is slightly acid to almost neutral-a pH of about 5.5-6.5. Test your soil to find your pH level. Fertilize and amend your soil accordingly.

Fertilizers can either be natural – we carry Espoma products such as bone meal, dried blood, Holly Tone, Plant Tone, etc.  Or you can use dry or granular fertilizers that are either quick or slow release. Osmocote is a good slow release fertilizer. Natural fertilizers should be incorporated into the soil when you turn it over, especially phosphorous (bone meal),  as it doesn’t move readily through the soil. Dry or granular fertilizers can be sprinkled on the surface and raked into the top few inches of soil.

Properly preparing a bed can take a lot of time and effort, but in the end, it repays you many times over.

We can assist you with your plant selection or fertilizer needs. Don’t know where to begin? Ask about our We Plan, You Plant program. Stop in or give us a call today.

Happy Planting!