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Puzzled By Perennials? A Helpful Guide To Growing Them

perennials

My love affair with perennials started way back when I was a girl growing up in Southern California. My mom always kept a garden and I loved seeing her perennials blossom every year.

Once my husband and I moved to Utah, I was eager to have flower beds of my very own to fill with perennials! There’s something even more special about growing perennials here in Utah, because unlike back in California, our harsh winters here force perennials into an annual hibernation.

But once the snow melts, perennials literally spring back to life with beautiful blossoms that last throughout the summer. And now that I have established perennials of my own, it’s something I look forward to with great anticipation every year!

perennials

In fact, not only do they “come back” every year, but they always come back a little bit bigger and better than the year before!. For instance, I planted peonies by our front door a few years ago, and I swear they’ve tripled in overall size and number of blooms since I planted it.

That’s just the magic of perennials—you plant them once, and then get to enjoy them year after year! And since spring is right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about planting some in your own outdoor spaces, and that’s what today’s post is going to be all about.

The Ultimate Guide To Growing Perennials

perennials

Choosing The Right Plants

While hydrangeas are probably my favorite perennial, I have MANY others varieties planted around my home, including purple coneflowers, peonies, delphiniums, and Shasta daisies. Other popular perennials include:

  • Lavender
  • Cranesbill
  • Hollyhock
  • Bleeding heart
  • Phlox
  • Fox glove
  • Catmint
perennials

While your own personal flower preference will be a factor in deciding which perennials you want to plant, it’s not the first thing you should consider. The very first thing you should do is research which perennials grow well in your particular location and climate.

For that information, your state’s extension service is an invaluable resource. Whenever I have gardening questions relating to our arid climate or high elevation here in Utah, I know I can count on the Utah State University Extension to have the answers I need! (You can find the link to your state’s extension service here.)

perennials

Once you know you which perennials are most likely to thrive where you live, you can start considering other factors like bloom time and expected lifespan. Some species only bloom for two weeks each year, while others may bloom over two or three months.

Lifespans vary as well, and “short-lived” perennials like lupines and delphinium may only last around three or four years. Other perennials may live as long as fifteen years (or even a lifetime in the case of peonies!)

perennials

Buying Perennials

When purchasing perennials (especially as a newbie), it’s a good idea to get the largest, most mature plant your budget will allow. Because the bigger the plant is to begin with, the more quickly it will be able to establish itself and the sooner it will begin blooming!

Plants are typically available in pots ranging from 3 to 12 inches in diameter. You can plant pot-grown perennials from spring through fall with minimal transplant shock.

If you plan to buy plants via mail-order, be aware that some companies ship their plants bareroot (as in without any soil). Bareroot perennials are usually only available in early spring when the plants are still dormant, and their roots need to be kept moist to prevent them from drying out.

(Curious about seeds? I personally prefer pot-grown plants instead of seeds, just because seeds take so much longer to grow. But for those of you who do want to start plants by seed, do so in a “nursery bed” rather than in your flower garden. They won’t look like much until the second year anyway, and a nursery bed will make it easier to keep an eye on how they’re performing.)

Planting Perennials

perennials

In-Ground & Raised Beds

Before planting, prepare your planting bed by loosening and turning under the soil to a depth of about 8 inches. Level the soil with a rake, and be sure to remove any large clumps of grass or stones you come across.

At this point, you may want to take the time to test the pH of your soil to make sure it’s a suitable environment for perennials. Most perennials prefer soil with a pH of about 6.5, though certain plants prefer slightly more alkaline or acidic conditions. (If you want to hold off on pH testing, you can always use it as a troubleshooting measure for struggling plants down the road.)

When you’re ready to plant, dig a hole slightly larger than the pot, then remove the plants from the pots and loosen up the roots with your fingers. Sprinkle some good, rich compost into the hole, then place the plant so that the top of the potting soil is level with the surrounding soil. Fill the hole around the plant with soil, then water the plant in thoroughly.

Adding a layer of mulch around your perennials can help protect them by preventing evaporation, which is especially important during the bright, hot days of summer.

perennials

In Pots

I usually reserve my flower pots for annuals, but it’s perfectly possible to plant perennials in pots, too! Just fill your pots with good quality potting soil, leaving about 3 inches between the top of the soil and the rim of the pot.

Settle your perennial in the soil, fill in any gaps with more potting soil, then give it a good watering. Keep newly planted perennials well watered for the first few weeks, saturating the entire root ball to help establish good contact between the roots and the surrounding soil.

perennials

Care And Maintenance Tips

Aside from keeping them well watered, there are a few other things you can do to help your perennials thrive, like staking, pinching, and deadheading. Staking is a way to provide structural support to tall or weak-stemmed plants, such as delphiniums and hybrid lilies, but shorter plants can also benefit from additional support.

Bamboo canes work well for staking individual stems, while wire support rings are a good option for entire plants. For best results, stake your perennials in early spring so the plants can camouflage the supports as they grow.

perennials

Some kinds of perennials, including asters, chrysanthemums, phlox, and salvias, benefit from being “pinched back,” which involves removing the growing tips once or twice during late spring. Pinching encourages bushier plants that are need less support and produce more blooms. (But not all perennials should be pinched, so be sure to find out what’s best for your specific plants.)

And finally, there’s deadheading. Removing spent flowers and dead blooms not only keeps your plants looking their best, but it often stimulates reblooming too. Once their bloom time is over, some plants should be shorn rather than deadheaded, including creeping phlox, nepeta, hardy geraniums, daisies, pinks, and lavender.

perennials

Overwintering

Most perennials are easy to overwinter, both in-ground plants and potted ones. They don’t require very much by the way of pruning, but they will benefit from having a thick layer of mulch to insulate them against the cold winter temperatures.

Potted perennials should be stored in your garage over the winter months, and should be lightly watered since they won’t receive water from snow or rain. When springtime returns, remove the mulch layer and move them back outside for another season of beautiful blossoms.

What are your favorite perennials?

Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Homekeeping Tips

  • Hi,
    We moved to New Mexico in 2011 after living in Louisiana for over 30 years. Everything I planted grew there and even plants that I never planted! Guess they were from the previous homeowner. I love living in New Mexico and have left my backyard as natural as possible. My only problem is that the cotton tail rabbits and the Jack rabbits love my yard and anything that I plant. Does anyone else have that problem?

  • A quick way to make your Swiffer WetJet open easy is to use Jillee’s method to open the wetjet container ONCE. Then use a toenail clipper to snip off the inward pointing spines, and screw the lid back on the Wet Jet container. From that point forward, all you have to do is unscrew it. No more hot water to loosen the cap. It does not leak, and you can add the cleaner of your choice.

  • I also love perennials. We are snowbirds and when we come back around April 1 everything is coming up with virtually no work on our part. Someone mentioned shasta daisies. I took mine out because they grew high and flopped over. If you can stake, they might work.

  • I think perennials are fantastic too! I would suggest doing your homework before buying and planting. I recommend native plants. Choose natives that are found in your climate. Most of them will be pollinator friendly as well. They will never need fertilizer, pesticides, will come back year after year, and after established most don’t need watering! Your landscape will be filled with bees, birds, and butterflies! That’s an added bonus.

  • We’ve had the color me blue variety for almost a decade, and it’s fabulous! I put a little citric acid around the roots in spring to hanged the color. Or, if I’m late, I’ve even ended up with pink and purple because they didn’t quite turn blue. Stunning!

    I live in Michigan, zone 6A, and definitely do not even put that much work into it. I tuck some fall leaves around the bottom, clear them out in the spring, and have never trimmed it. Absolutely do the watering, though. I did put a cold frame over it this year, though. We had a surprise pre-spring when my garden started to bloom. Thank goodness the Sterilite opaque bins were about the perfect size and there were plenty on-hand.

    The hydrangea has new blooms that froze off even under the frame, but then bounced back and looked better than ever!

  • Thanks for gardening tips. I also love hydrangeas but be careful how you prune and trim as many set their blooms on old wood.
    Really appreciate your tips!

  • We have snow here part of the year, would the Hydrangeas live thru the winters? I would love some Blue ones…..
    Love your blog, you offer so many great ideas….I use a lot of them and pass it around to my daughter and my sisters and my FB friends …..they enjoy the info too, and I tell them to sign up for your blog……

    Thanks for a chance to win….

  • We are moving into a new home that will be finished mid-July. I’m looking forward to planting some of my favorite perennials, and hydrangeas will definitely be on the list. Also, Shasta daisies. Thanks for the planting tips and the links. I will definitely check out the endless summer hydrangeas.

  • My current love is lantana. I planted some last year in a space where my next and last attempt was going to be plastic greenery. It flourished and came back this spring like a champ. I’ve started cuttings elsewhere by merely sticking them in the ground and watering by hand for a week or two. At least here in Northwest Florida, lantana is pretty much bullet proof. I have my lantana corralled between wall and sidewalk. I suspect otherwise it might be invasive so beware.

  • I love love love hydrangeas!! I just purchased two Endless Summer Bloom Struck hydrangeas and your planting tips came in very handy. Thanks so much!

  • I too developed a love for perennials. For years I planted annuals in my flower bed. Last year I started replacing with perennials and this spring all my plants came back green and beautiful. My Shasta daisies are gorgeous and my butterfly bush is starting to bloom. I love seeing the butterflies flutter around the yard. Thanks for sharing how to plant in pots. This will be my new addition.

  • Another important factor in choosing perennials is choosing ones which help the pollinators (bees, butterflies, birds) in your area.

  • I love the hydrangeas as well but I did not know about the ones where you can choose the color you wanted that’s pretty neat. Thanks for the tips.

  • Hydrangeas and peonies are two of my favorites also. I have some dried hydrangea flowers on my fridge from 5 years ago when I had to leave my plants when we moved. They are still in pretty good shape.

  • Great tips- as USUAL! Thank you. I really enjoy all of the useful information you provide. I got a beautiful oak leaf hydrangea at Sam’s Club & am heading outside in a bit. I’m hoping my plant thrives in its new home.

  • I’m so ready to work in my two front flower beds, but I’m waiting for some painting to be done. Until then I just think about what will be planted there.

  • I just went to a local greenhouse yesterday and bought several perenials: bleeding hearts, poppies, and an ornamental grass that blooms. They were out of peonies and hydrangeas. Those are my favorites, so I’m still on the search.

  • so much great information about hydrangeas.!! This I see my first year of planting 3 plus I brought a week ago a hygrangea tree, which I will put I this week. Can’t wait for them to flower year after year. Thanks again

  • Thank you for this informative information, and your tips about planting will be put to good use. I will certainly check out Endless Summers website.

    Thanks

  • I Love endless summer hydrangeas! They can be rooted & are beautiful to cut & dry to use in a simple arrangement or decoration for Christmas tree. One perennial this southern girl must have to enjoy in May & June.

  • Now that I am older I have been planting more perennials . It’s so exciting to see them appear early in the spring. I would love to win a hydrangea. Love your post.

  • I love hydrangeas and have three at present. Had not even heard of “Endless Summer” and will definitely check this out. I love things that bloom all summer like the Knock Out Roses. They do not have a rose smell except the yellow ones have a slight aroma but they bloom and bloom and bloom. They are beautiful. Those and the hydrangeas are definitely my favorites. I love reading your articles every day you have such useful information. Thank you.

  • I live in Central Texas. I have a flower bed on the east side of my house, in winter it gets the north wind and I am having trouble getting flowers to grow. It only gets sun in the morning til noon. Do you have suggestions for this bed. I also love.

  • Perennials are the way to go! Plant flowers native to your region. Watch out for invasive planta…I love liatris but they’ve taken over! Now I have to fight to get rid of them…

  • I love perennials! I’m moving soon to a new home, and look forward to using all your tips for not only planting perennials, but also many of your household tips. Thank you!

  • Thanks for the great article! I love the colors of perennials! Planning on buying an Endless Summer hydrangea this weekend. Would love to win the nice gardening set!!

  • Thank you for the column about perennials. I like to buy at least one new perennial each year, though sometimes they are hard to find. I do have irises, clematis vines (white and purple), Yarrow, oxalis and a plant called obedient plant. That’s what the lady called it when she gave it to me…must find a better name for it. She had a great idea…she gave me all five of these the year that my dad died. She likes to give plants that continue to grow, and I often think about my dad when I work with them.

  • I just started getting into gardening a couple of years ago. I have been having so much trouble getting up and down the stairs to the yard and bending to weed that I transplanted all my strawberries into pots on my deck and bought a bunch of planters to plant flowers and tomatoes. I have some perennials up there too but I will be doing that too. I have some down around the bottom of the deck, such at hostas, lillies, and some other stuff that I don’t know what they are. THank you for the perennials idea for on the deck too.

  • We just moved to a new-to-us home and have several perennials waiting to be planted soon! Thanks for all of your tips! Thanks for this fun giveaway–new tools would definitely be helpful!

  • I love perennials too. I have several flowerbeds in my yard. I have spring flowers in one that blooms until the roses take over. I have peonies and angel trumpets in another. I have hostas, lilies and irises planted in my last one. It’s shade and sun. I have elephant ears and pink ice plants by my door. I have all my potted plants on my back deck. Yes, my house looks like a jungle, inside and out, but the colors are worth every load of compost shoveled, every weed pulled, and every hour spent watering.

  • I am also a transplanted California Girl, living in Tennessee. Gardening here is much different from California, where things don’t die back and stay beautiful most of the year. I am slowly learning what will and won’t work for me here.

  • My garden is my fav place to relax and unwind and you’re so right, perennials are worth the investment of time and effort. Nothing beats a beautiful hydrangea! I’d also love to learn more about propogating them – that way I can share them! Love your website!

  • I love my end summer hydrangeas here in Michigan. I have had pretty good luck with growing them, and I love cutting some of the blooms after they are almost all dried on the plant in the fall, then cut off the plant and bring indoors to continue to enjoy the dried blooms all winter. Have fun with your new babies.

  • I have a large perennial bed in my front yard that gets full sun and another in the back that is part shade. I love researching what grows well in my zone and conditions. I have several types of cultivated hydrangeas as well as oak leaf hydrangeas which are native to our area. Other favorites are day lilies, hostas, ferns, asters, Mexican Heather, and indigo (Baptisia).

  • I love that you can choose which color of hydrangea you want. Too bad we can’t do that with other plants………………………..thanks for all the info on a daily basis. You are the one I go to for lots of ideas…….

  • I like perennials also and I am trying to get a flower garden started. Your info has been very helpful to me and will assure you it will come in handy.

  • I have always loved hydrangeas, and I have one that has been providing wonderful color and joy for several years. Your article reminded me of how beautiful and easy-to-care for hydrangeas and other perennials can be, even in my home state of Minnesota. This weekend should be a great time to visit a local nursery and pick up a few!

  • Perennials are the wonderful plants that keep on giving with their lovely blossoms year after year. Annuals give a burst of color but the perennials are faithful and beautiful.

  • I agree with your statement “Not only do they “come back” every year, but they come back bigger and better than the year before!” A few years ago I planted some lavender & some mums. They were scrawny the first year, better last year & now it is amazing how they’re bigger, fuller w/more blossoms. Will look into the Endless Summer hydrangeas. Also, thanks for the opportunity to possibly acquire new garden gloves & tools.

  • I don’t have a natural ‘green thumb’, but your post inspired me to try again. My daughters enjoy flowers, & I hope they can learn also.
    Thanks!

  • Pentas are great perrenials here in central Florida. They get bigger and better every year. The butterflies just love them too.
    I love reading your gardening ideas.

  • I love hydrangeas too. Just wish they would love me back. Bloom one year and then never again. Geesh. I’ve had three different plants do this. I give up. I do not cut the canes and I cover with a plastic barrel in the winter. Lovely bush, but no blooms after first year.

  • I also love hydrangeas but moved last year and no plants except a huge lilac bush in front. Time to get planting. I have lots of inside plants in containers but nothing in the ground. I am a little intimidated to start. Guess I betterget to it.

  • Perennials give you the most bang for your buck! Sometimes I’ll buy plants at the end of the selling season because I know they’ll come back the following year and I can get more plants for less money. Irises, lilacs, and hydrangeas are my favorite flowers. Love your blog.

  • I LOVE perennials too, and particularly hydrangeas…and the Endless Summer brand is wonderful! I always dry some to place in vases throughout the winter too!

  • Hydrangeas are so beautiful & you can enjoy them all year long. Cut & dried they make beautiful arrangements inside your home during the winter months.

  • I Love hydrangeas. I have a fall one that blooms in the fall. It starts out green, changes to pink and ends white. It is beautiful.

  • I have two hydrangeas that bloom blue each year. I’m definitely going to look for the Color Me Pink product. Thanks for the information and all your great posts! I look forward to your emails each day! Bloom on, Jill!

  • I’m trying to get my yard looking nice this year after just maintaining it for the past few tears. I think I will try something new like annuals and see how it goes. Thanks for the tips!

  • I’ve had these hydrangeas for 4 years and they get fuller and more beautiful each year. The powder used to make them blue really works and I have 100s of dazzling blue flowers each year. What a focal point!

  • Good choice. I have several Endless Summer hydrangeas and they are one of my all time favorites! I have a partially shaded area they grow well in so the sweltering heat doesn’t make them droop as much. Good luck with your gardening.

  • You’ve convinced me to got out and plant some Hydrangeas now. I think I’ll search for the yellow one mentioned in the above comments. If not the gorgeous blue ones will due. :)

  • I grew up with Hydrangas and love that you can select the color they produce. My parents are coming to live with us and it would be wonderful to have some in my garden for them to enjoy.

  • I love planting perennials, watching them grow and bloom throughout the summer. After the season it’s so wonderful to watch them come to life again, see how much they will grow year to year. A home with flowers planted in the flower beds appears so inviting and has one imagining who lives there, who planted the garden. Is it maintained by the homeowner, or a nursery? Is the person young or old, and when the garden is absolutely beautiful……well you strive to try to make yours as beautiful. Gardening is a relaxing activity and good for the soul.

  • Hydrangeas are my FAVORITE perennial also! I love the fact that you can amend the soil to create different colors; however, that’s not necessarily true with all varieties. The blossoms get bigger and more bountiful every year, and the shrub itself adds a nice green background for smaller perennials and/or annuals.

    Thanks so much for your interesting & informative blogs, Jillee; I look forward to reading it every day with my morning coffee.

  • Hydrangeas are also my favorite perennial!! The other day I went to visit a friend in rehab & she had the most gorgeous cut hydrangeas & one was a lemon yellow. Have you ever seen this before?
    BTW-i read your blog everyday & always look forward to your creative juices at work!!
    Lynda

  • One of my favorite perennials is lantana. Not only are there many beautiful colors to choose from, but they will usually bloom several times over the course of the spring, summer, and often fall. I live in the South, so that may be why. They are very hardy and come back each year with no work at all ( I have a black thumb, but even I can’t kill them.)

  • I look forward to your email each morning with my coffee. My favorite thing is to search the clearance rack at the big box stores and “rescue” what I find there. I have a very high success rate. Which, I attribute to gardening with my mother when I was a little girl. She always filled the hole with water when she planted. I think of her every time I plant a new find. She is always with me in the garden.

  • If you get a lot of heat, water them daily, sometimes twice a day. I’ve found constant watering to be the trick for blooming all summer. Don’t forget to prune a stem here and there to make the plant bushy with more blooms.

    Love Columbine!! I’m saving seeds for next summer.

  • Working and maintaining a garden full of vibrant and thriving perennials is the result of daily therapy for the soul. I have a deep love with nature and her constant beauty she provides.

    Debbie Maxwell
    Lithia, FL

  • Another tip for your Hydrangeas is to either put some rusty nails around the base of the plant into the soil and/or regularly feed the plant with wood ash from the fire, both of these will adjust the pH in the soil and vary the colour in the plant, I’ve had great results here in Australia.

    Not sure about other countries but we regularly prune the plant after the last flowering and cut back at least a third of the stem, this gives the plant the beautiful shape for next season.

  • Perennials are my gardening lifeline. Love them!! Stella D’Oro day lillies and delphinium are my most recent favorites, especially in our climate (Denver). I’ve been wondering about hydrangeas given our harsh heat and soil conditions. Perhaps this variety will work well. Thanks for the tip!

  • Love hydrangeas. Had them at our old house and hoped to plant the endless summer variety at our new house…unfortunately the deer changed those plans :-/

  • I just planted a hydrangea bush, a gift for Mother’s Day from my daughter and grandkids. It’s gorgeous with pink blossoms! We added some peat moss as per the directions too. Finger crossed, I’d love to see it again blooming many more times in the future!

    Thanks for the info!

    Janie S.

  • Wonderful article! I’m moving from the East back to the Phoenix AZ area this year and will again miss many of my favorite perennials–I’ll have to research if there are any hydrangeas that will grow there.
    Thanks for the entry!

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