Gardening with Perennials

A bee visits a daylily blossom. (Photo (c) Hilda M. Morrill)
A bee visits a daylily blossom. (Photo (c) Hilda M. Morrill)

Perennials are easy-to-grow, dependable and offer such a wealth of different colors, shapes, textures and sizes that they have become the backbone of many gardens. Unlike annuals, which need to be replanted each spring, in general, perennials return each year with a zest of new growth and beauty.

Herbaceous perennials die back to the ground during winter and regrow from the roots the next year. So don’t panic if you don’t see stems in the early spring. Many perennials spread by sending out shoots from their roots which develop into new stems, great for filling in a bed or sharing with friends.

Most perennials should be divided when they are dormant. In general, divide spring bloomers in the fall and fall bloomers in the spring.

Perennials from temperate regions, such as asters, irises, lupines, wallflowers, peonies and primroses, need a cold winter to encourage new buds to grow in spring.

An upside to perennial plantings is the amazing variety of colors, textures and sizes available. While some do require pruning and maintenance, their longevity makes this well worth the effort.

Some perennials, such as columbines and delphiniums, are short-lived, lasting only three or four years.

Generally speaking, perennial flowers start off small in the first year, then with each growing season, produce bigger and more abundant blooms. Once they get to be about three years old, you might have to think about dividing them to keep them healthy and looking their best. (To be honest and for full disclosure, there are some perennials in our garden, such as peonies, that I have never divided.)

A key to designing with perennials is making sure that there is a continuation of blooms and interest, which means more careful garden planning than when using annuals.

Books on perennials as well as some Internet websites are invaluable resources. They provide photographs for identification (and inspiration), cultural information, descriptions of growth habits, bloom times and colors… and much more.

Even though most retailers are diligent and aware, we must still beware of invasive perennial plants. Check with the state’s Department of Natural Resources to learn which plants have been deemed invasive and ask gardening friends and neighbors.

Happy Gardening!

We thank Diane Blazek, the Executive Director of the National Garden Bureau, for sharing some tips with us. Founded in 1920, the NGB is a non-profit organization whose mission is to disseminate basic instructions for backyard gardeners and those who want to garden, that will inspire them to spend more time outdoors, enjoying all nature has to offer. For more information, be sure to visit their website at