Before transplanting annuals to the garden, or direct-sowing seeds there, it’s a good idea to prepare the soil. In general, annuals prefer well-drained soil. Digging in a good quantity soil amendment will help to build up the soil’s organic matter and allow the plants’ roots to spread quickly and get off to a good start.
Set out young plants at the recommended spacing, to prevent them from crowding each other once they have grown and matured. If you’ve purchased plants in flats, gently break apart the root mass before placing them in holes; this encourages roots to spread quickly into the surrounding soil. Fertilize at planting time with an organic or slow-release fertilizer.
You need to pay attention to whether a particular plant prefers sun or shade since shade-loving plants can burn in sunny locations and sun loving plants won’t bloom very well in shady locations.
It’s best to transplant annuals to the garden as soon as possible after bringing them home. If you need to hold plants in flats for more than a couple of days at home, be sure to water them and keep them in a partly shady, protected spot outdoors like a porch or under a tree. Always make sure the root balls are moist before planting.
The lifespan, bloom time, culture and form of perennial plants varies greatly. Some species, such as lupines and delphinium, are so called “short-lived” perennials, with a lifespan of just three or four years. Others may live as long as fifteen years, or even, in the case of peonies, a lifetime. Bloom time may last for only two weeks each year, or may extend over two to three months. Some perennials, such as primroses, require deep humusy soil and plenty of shade, while others, such as threadleaf coreopsis and cushion spurge, wither away unless they grow in well-drained soil and full sun. Still other perennials contain themselves in a nice, neat mound; some, such as gooseneck loosestrife, will take over your entire garden. Some species should be cut back in mid-summer, while others, such as hybrid lilies, may die if you remove their foliage.
There are so many different species and cultivars of perennial flowers to choose from that few people ever become completely familiar with all the options. For the perennial gardener, books are an invaluable resource. They provide photos for identification and inspiration, care information about soil preferences, and propagation. Books also give you a description of growth habits, bloom time, color, characteristics of special cultivars, and sometimes recommendations for complementary plants. Invest in a good how-to book that has care information, and a color encyclopedia to help you identify plants and plan your selections.
Fellow gardeners are also a great source of information about perennials. They can give you first-hand details about bloom time, height, hardiness, and care requirements. Not only that, if you visit their gardens, you can see for yourself what the plants really look like up close. Nothing beats seeing a plant in a garden setting, where you can observe how it is being used.
You may even go home with some plants that your gardener friend wants to pass along for your own garden. However, the best way to learn about perennials is just to plant them in your garden and see how they grow.
If there’s a plant that you like, give it a try. Even though your next-door neighbor may not be able to grow iris, you may find that you have the ideal soil conditions and exposure. Though most books say that hostas are shade lovers, your climate may be cool enough or cloudy enough to keep them happy in full sun. Marginally hardy plants may survive for years if you can locate them in a sheltered spot. There’s just no way to know how a plant will do for you unless you give it a try. If it turns out to be too tall, the color is wrong, or the plant doesn’t thrive, you can always move it and try something different.