Saturday, August 30, 2014

Planning your Perennial Bed

Starting your perennial planting with a plan will allow your plants to survive and thrive for years.  Spending money on a perennial garden is a long term investment and depending on your plan it can be costly.  The idea is to start the garden healthy, keep it healthy, and avoid problems down the road.  After 25 years in this business, we have listened to our customers and learned from their, and our own, mistakes.  Knowing what the most common problems are will help you avoid them.

Location:  Avoid locations with poorly draining soil.

Where you plant a perennial is as important as what you plant.  Avoid any location that stays wet.  This is any soil that gets consistent moisture and doesn't drain well.  In well-draining soil it is hard to provide too much water to a perennial in the summer but during the winter is a different story.  When the soil freezes in the winter water must run off and away from the plants because there is no way for it to soak into the frozen soil.  Avoid planting at the end of your downspouts.  Even the smallest amount of snow melts from your roof and runs what could be a lot of water out of the downspouts and onto your perennials.  Avoid planting in locations where you pile all the snow from winter storms.  The snow cover is good for perennials because it protects them from the winter cold but if all that water created from the spring melt can't drain away it will kill the plants. 

Soil Type:  Avoid heavy soils or amend with compost.

If the soil you are planting in has moss growing on top of it you must realize this is a spot that is shaded and consistently wet.  The best thing to do with this location is either rock it or amend it.  All perennials will resent a wet winter soil and they will crown rot.  They turn to mush and die.  Heavy clay soils can also be big problems.  Rock it or amend it.  Plants like mums will die in heavy clay soils.  You can amend the soil by digging or tilling the area and working in products that improve aeration and percolation of water.  Sand, gravel, and certain composts work well for amending a heavy clay soil.

Plants are just like people.  Some are more resilient than others.  Some will take a licking and keep on ticking.  Others won't.  When you buy a perennial ask the guy, or lady, selling it to you about its ease of growth.  Seriously, some plants are just plain hard to grow.  With so many new plant genetics being rushed to market you're going to run into some just plain and simple bad genetics.  They won't survive our winters.  The people selling it to you should be knowledgeable enough to give you advice about the ability of a plant to survive our winters.  Check the USDA winter hardiness zone on the tag.  Depending on your exact location in Nebraska you are either zone 4 or zone 5.  In our immediate area I always tell folks that if you live south of the river you are zone 5 and north of the river you are zone 4.  This hits the USDA zone map fairly close.