All About Perennial Care

Perennials are a staple of any garden. After all, what’s better than planting something only once, and being rewarded season after season with its beauty? Whether it’s gorgeous blooms or finely detailed foliage that you’re after, perennials can provide!

Still, there’s a little more to them than just planting and enjoying. In this blog we’re going to go over some “broad strokes” tips for perennial care that are easy to implement and will make a huge impact on the success of your long-living beauties.

Proven Winners® 'Leading Lady Razzberry' Bee Balm (Monarda)

What is a perennial plant?

A perennial plant is one that can live in the ground for more than two growing seasons. While annuals will die after their season is over, perennials do not. Though they can sometimes appear dead, the roots of the plant keep it alive while waiting for ideal weather to return. Some varieties only return for a few years before dying, while others can last decades with proper care!

This makes perennials one of the largest categories of plants out there. Shrubs and trees are even technically perennials! That can get confusing, though, so know that any time we mention “perennials”, we’re not including trees or shrubs— just the garden-bed ones! These are also known as herbaceous perennials.

One last thing to keep in mind is that some plants are annual is many zones, while being perennial in only a few. For example, most Superbells® are annuals to a large portion of the United States but can be treated as perennials in hotter zones. It’s important to know not only your own zone, but the zone ranges of what you’re planting. It’s the first, and most important step to a happy and health perennial garden!

Garden with perennial plants

Starting with a proper foundation

So now that we know what a perennial is, how can we ensure that they’re preforming as best they can be? Like any other plant, proper placement is key. Pay attention to how much sunlight reaches the various areas of your landscape and pick out your perennials and their locations based on this. You also may want to group them by similar water and fertilizer needs to make upkeep easier.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also factor your zone into this determination. Zones that are closer to the equator receive more direct sunlight, while lower zones often get “weaker” sunlight. A part sun perennial could potentially thrive in full sun if the zone is low enough. We must note, however, that this isn’t guaranteed. Experimenting with your garden often leads to a mix of successes and failures— and that should be taken into consideration!

Thankfully, your plants will probably let you know if they’re unhappy. If you notice brown leaves, try a bit more shade or a touch more water. If they’re not producing flowers or you notice that they’re “reaching” or leaning for the sun, try to move it to a slightly brighter area.

Over the years

The best part about perennials is watching them grow bigger and stronger as the years go on. Still, these years come with some care requirements. 

  • Deadheading – Most perennials don’t need to be deadheaded but will benefit from the facelift. On some varieties, deadheading is recommended to increase the bloom output. Look into the care recommendations of your specific variety before breaking out the clippers, but as a quick guide:
    • Varieties that produce flowers at the tips of leafy stalks can have the stems of their spent flowers cut down by a third of their total height, or to the top of the foliage mound.
    • Varieties that produce flowers on stalks with no (or very few) leaves can have the entire stalk removed.
    • Some varieties, including many grasses, are left in-tact as they provide great winter interest.
  • Dividing – Some of the faster growing perennials can be divided up after a few years of good growth. Not only does it help the plant to grow further, but you get a second plant out of it! Not all perennials should be divided, though, so do your research first.
    • When in doubt, do not divide plants that have: Woody crowns, a single “main” stem, fleshy roots, or a tap root.
  • Fertilizing – They don’t need as much as annuals do. We recommend a slow-release fertilizer like this one, with one feeding in spring and another in the middle of summer. Additionally, a thin layer of compost or other shredded organics in the spring can offer a helpful boost of nutrients. Of course, look into the care instructions of your specific varieties first. Some perennials (yarrow, lavender, stonecrop, etc.) can suffer from too much of a good thing, and shouldn’t be over-fed.
  • Mulching – Mulch helps to protect the root systems of plants, especially those that must endure a long winter.
    • Laying down a 2-to-4-inch layer of mulch in the fall can be a big help— but be sure that it doesn’t touch the crown (where the plant meets the dirt). Mulch that physically touches the plant can cause rot and invite pests.
    • It’s often best to slowly remove this mulch layer in spring. Removing it all at once can shock the plant, so it’s best to do it inch by inch.

Season long blooms

Perennials allow for season long color, both with or without help from annual plants. If you’re interested in creating a garden that’s always in bloom with minimal yearly planting, refer to the chart linked here from Proven Winners® to see which varieties can aid in ensuring that your garden never lacks eye-catching blooms!

Garden with perennial flowers

Perennials are what link your garden from season to season. They’re the base, and sometimes the focus, of a great display. They’re rarely fussy when planted in the right spot but can appear as if they’ve been meticulously waited on. Whether it’s your first step beyond annual planting, or you simply want to refresh your garden with some of our newer offerings, click here to see all the perennials that Proven Winners Direct™ has to offer. If there’s a perennial you’ve recently fallen in love with, share it with us on social media!

As always,

Happy planting!