Perennials are defined as plants that have a life cycle of 3+ years, as opposed to annual plants (1 year) and biennial plants (2 years). Most gardeners use the term in reference to herbaceous perennials, which survive through winter and drought as underground roots, rhizomes, bulbs, corms or tubers.
In the Kootenays, these plants will disappear through the winter and not reappear again until about May.
Typically, the new foliage emerges from the earth in mid-spring and takes about a month or so to develop into a beautiful plant again, ready to stimulate the eye with colourful blooms, fabulous foliage and the nose with the sweet fragrance of spring.
I consider woody perennials such as trees and shrubs to be the ‘bones’ (structure) of the garden so I place them first when designing a garden bed.
This was my focus when I built my new garden beds last season. Now, that I’ve ensured year-long interest for my landscape with a good selection of shrubs and trees, I’m ready to add the ‘accessories’ or herbaceous perennials in the empty spaces.
With limited garden space, I needed to choose wisely in order to add blooms from May through October and then place these treasures where they will perform best.
I have evaluated my yard conditions to place ‘full sun’ perennials in a spot with at least 6 hours of sunlight per day and ‘shade’ perennials in areas with dappled sunlight or shade.
I’ve amended the soil with compost to provide nutrients for all the plants and know there is adequate drainage throughout so I’m ready for the next step…..to pick from my list of favourite perennials and add another layer of joy to my garden!
I only choose perennials that look good all season, even after they’ve finished blooming. That’s why I don’t have plants such as poppies anymore.
Their spectacular spring flowers turn to unappealing scruffy foliage soon after. I also want perennials that are relatively pest and disease-resistant because there’s nothing more annoying than fighting aphids and weevils.
Once I decide on a particular plant and head to the garden centre, I want to make sure to get a healthy specimen. If the leaves are pale or shrivelled brown, the plant has probably not had enough water or protection from strong sun and will likely not recover. If there are lacelike holes in discoloured foliage, the plant may have been attacked by Japanese beetles (which are a problem almost everywhere).
These beetles may mark the plant with pheromones for other beetles to find later. I also check the roots by straddling stems of the plant with my fingers and gently tipping the pot to see whether the plant is either root bound or has not developed a decent root system. If any of these problems appear I move on to a better specimen.
Over the next few columns, I’ll share information about some of my favourite ‘easy-care’ perennials for sun and/or shade to transform your garden space.
Patty Siddall and Betty Drover operate a local garden business and will share their expertise in the Trail Times every other Friday. Contact Siddall Drover Garden Services at 250-364-1005