DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Perennials Keep On Giving

Perennial flowers have become the backbone of many yards today. Instead of fussing with annual seed and bedding plants, flowers such as peonies keep on giving each year with little or no effort.

This switch to perennials from annual flowers doesn’t mean they are better but rather they require less work by the homeowner. Both should be included in any garden plan.

Besides peonies and irises, there are other perennials that will delight the eye. They include daylilies, phlox, delphiniums, purple cone flowers, daisies and lilies. Even spring-flowering bulbs are honorary perennials as we often leave those in our gardens for several years before renewing the bed.

Here are some common practices that pertain to maintaining your perennials:

— Deadheading is the removal of flowers after they begin dropping or forming a seed pod. Pruning encourages the formation of additional flower buds by inhibiting seed production. Or, it allows more energy to go into the plant for the coming year. A bonus is that your plants will look better.

To deadhead your perennials, use a pair of scissors or small pruning shears. Snip the flower head back to the first leaf on the stem.

— Pinching is the removal of the growing tip of a flower stalk. A good example would be the Chrysanthemum.

Mums have a problem with too many buds. So in midsummer, thin them out if you want more flowers. When the growing tip is removed, the buds along the stem branch and grow into new branches.

Not all perennials should be pinched other than mums and fall asters.

— Cutting back is similar to a haircut. This is the uniform pruning of a plant to reduce its height. This will improve the looks of straggly plants and in some plants encourage blooming. Yarrow and geraniums would be examples.

One perennial we should see in more gardens is common garden phlox. Native to the eastern United States, phlox was introduced in Europe in 1730. Since then, hybrids of this fragrant plant have been developed on both sides of the Atlantic.

Phlox needs full sun, though the sharpest pinks do best in very light shade. Plant in fertile, fluffy soil amended with lots of well-rotted manure or compost.

Clumps of phlox should be divided every other year in either spring or fall. Separate large clumps into smaller clumps of five to eight stems and replant.

Sadly, phlox often gets mildew. The white variety, David, is mildew-resistant. It displays large clusters of line-white flowers in late summer.

Phlox should be cleaned up when the plants take a rest in the fall.


Leave a Reply