The Basic Guide to Planting and Caring for Perennials

by Flower El
perennial sorrel tree green

Planting and caring for your perennial vegetables and plants may not be different from what you do for your annual crops. In fact, some of them can take care of themselves practically, once you establish them. This is because they have deeper root systems, so they require less water and fertilizers than annuals since they replenish themselves with minimal outside resources.

Planting Basics

1. Prepare the soil

You need to give these plants a strong start-off for them to serve you year after year. Before you start planting, you need to prepare the soil and dig compost, manure or fertilizer deep into the soil, whether you are planting flowers, vegetables, fruits or herbs. Dig holes and furrows before you remove the plant from the bag or container. Dig them deep enough and then mix the soil with the fertilizer well. Organic and slow-release fertilizers are more preferable than synthetic fertilizers.

2. Choose healthy plants

A healthy seed, cuttings or root systems produce a healthy plant and higher yields. Choose your plants well whether you are buying them or planting from old plants. You can order nursery-grown plants from local outlets or online, either as live plants or dormant roots.

You can also buy seeds to plant directly, but it is better to germinate or sprout them first before planting. Get cuttings or the root system from healthy plants that you already have, and plant them as new plants. This can be in a new garden or extending the one you have, in pots, plastic bottles, containers, wood logs or other upcycled gardens.

Separate aggressive perennials such as Jerusalem Artichokes from moderate ones. Prepare a separate bed for them and for those that seed themselves, such as Garlic Chives otherwise they might overtake the less aggressive growers.

3. Planting

When planning a perennial from the pot or bag, you should dig a hole or furrow that will cover the whole root system. When planting seed you should dig shallow holes. If you are planting the root system from older plants, you should water the plants thoroughly so that the soil can hold onto the roots before division. Follow instructions given when planting dormant roots.

4. Spacing

Spacing between plants is important so each can get enough nutrients, air and space for growth. At times, you can grow annuals between rows of slow-growing perennials.

5. Watering

You should water the plants thoroughly after you transplant them. Keep watering for 1-2 weeks, so the roots can get established. Some perennials require frequent watering just like other plants to be able to establish themselves. Although there are drought-resistant perennials, others may require plenty of water. You can use a hose, drip irrigation system or sprinklers if you have a large garden and a watering can or bucket if your garden is small.

6. Mulching

Cover the areas around your plants with a generous amount of mulch from shredded leaves, compost, wood chips, grass clippings and other plant matter to keep the soil moist and to minimize evaporation. The mulch helps the soils to retain moisture and also discourages growth of weeds near the plant. The mulch also adds nutrients to the soil, as it decomposes thereby enriching it with organic matter.

7. Weeding

Weeding is very important, especially during the first year or two. Weeds compete for nutrients in the soil with the plant. If you want your plants to be healthy and I am sure you do, keep weeds at bay by weeding regularly, until your perennials spread out above the ground.

8. Pruning

Many perennials need to be pruned from time to time. Some require to be pruned before flowering and others after flowering.

9. Thinning

Some plants require thinning from time to time as they grow, to prevent diseases, rotting and pest infestation. Thinning also encourages air circulation and it strengthens the plant.

10. Stalking

Some plants grow so tall that they need stalking.

The Advantages and Drawbacks of Growing Perennials

Although most of humanity all over the world depends on annuals for food, especially grains, perennial crops have many benefits. They prevent soil erosion, capture nitrogen in the air before it contaminates surface water and soil while most of the time they are the ones that cleanse the air by using carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, since they grow through the years. They minimize the need for herbicides (since they keep off weeds) and tilling of the land since they don’t require replanting year after year.

Growing perennials have many advantages. These include:

Easy to grow

Perennial vegetables and plants are easy to grow because they don’t have to be planted every year, yet you reap the harvest year after year without replanting. When you plant them and they become established, they keep growing some even for decades. The ease of cultivation and their high yield is the greatest advantage for growing them.

Multiply fast

They get multiplied by division of the root system. Some perennials thrive when they are dug up and the root system divided. This turns what used to be a single plant into many new plants. You can either replant them and enlarge your garden or share them with family, friends and neighbors.

Perennials are dynamic

They shoot and grow at different times of the year, depending on the season and the species. You can plan to have them throughout the year by selecting perennials that grow during different seasons. That way, you will always have something on your plate from your garden.

Can grow in many places

There are many perennials you can grow indoors in pots and containers especially herbs. Other perennials love the sun while others do well under the shade. You can therefore have a variety anywhere you need them either indoors or outdoors.

They bloom fast

This is within 1-6 weeks, unlike annuals which take long to bloom. Plan your garden in a way that you will always have some harvest.

Low maintenance

Perennial veggies, herbs and fruits as well as flowers are low maintenance. They save labor because they are not planted each year like annuals. There is no annual tilling and planting. They also thrive and produce abundant and nutritious crops throughout the seasons.

Build soil

Perennial vegetables and plants help to build the soil. Perennial crops are amazing; they provide nutrients that the soil needs because they don’t have to be tilled over and over again. They foster nutrients that add health to the soil in form of foliage, animals and fungi that the soil needs by being a natural habitat for this essential soil life.

Prevent soil erosion

Perennials keep the soil intact, preventing soil erosion with their deep and extensive root system. They also don’t require annual digging and turning the soil, which loosen it.

Improve soil structure

When they are mulched well, they improve the structure of the soil by providing organic matter when leaves, roots and other plant matter, decompose. This is the way nature intended it to be, enriching the natural resource, the soil that keeps producing now and into the future.

Act as mulch

They also make the soil porous as well as act as mulch to hold moisture. They keep off weeds by growing where these would have grown, reducing the use of herbicides.

Survive even when neglected

When well-established with the right climatic conditions and soil, perennials can be productive even when they are neglected.

More resistant

Perennials are often times more resistant to pests, diseases, weeds and drought than other plants.

Bounty harvest

Some perennials provide a bounty harvest since they require to be harvested frequently.

Extend harvest

Perennials extend the harvest since they are available in different seasons. By the time you are transplanting seedlings or planting seeds of annuals or biennials in your garden or waiting for the best time to plant, many of the perennials are already growing and getting ready to be harvested.

Perform multiple functions

Perennials perform multiple functions. Many perennials are so beautiful and they make up ornamental plants which you can use to beautify your home and garden. In fact, you can use them to enhance your landscape and create beautiful scenery.

Other perennials can act as hedges and ground-covering plants to control soil erosion on sloppy areas. Other perennial vegetables and plants return nitrogen to the soil through their root nodes, providing organic fertilizer not only for themselves but for neighboring plants as well. Some provide a natural habitat for important animals and fungi, beneficial insects and pollinators, while others provide shade for other shade-loving plants.

When they are compared with annuals, perennials tend to be more nutritious, easier to grow, less labor intensive and more beneficial to the ecology, as well as less dependent on water and other gardening inputs.

The Drawbacks of Growing Perennials

You need to consider the advantages against drawbacks.

Some perennial vegetables such as Asparagus take many years to give yields. They are slow in establishing themselves and usually take 3 years before they begin to give good yields. If you are a tenant and you don’t plan to stay in the property for long, you might leave the plant before you harvest the first time.

You can’t grow plants like Lovage in a container because of the extensive root system.

Some veggies like Jerusalem Artichokes can take over the garden. Others like Lovage throw shade to surrounding plants.

There are some plants that become bitter as the seasons progress and they have to be dug up. Some perennial greens become bitter when they flower, so you can only enjoy them very early in the season.

Some perennials have very strong flavors, which many people are not accustomed to.

Perennials vegetables and plants need to be planted in a permanent place in the garden because they will be there for many years.

Some perennials quickly become weeds and overtake the garden or they simply move elsewhere especially in the neighborhood.

Perennials are susceptible to pests and diseases since can’t practice crop rotation and once they catch diseases which are not manageable, they’ll need to be dug up and replaced.

Perennials require investment in form of your time and money.

Pest & Disease Management for Perennials

Plants of all kinds are prone to many diseases which you should try as much as possible to manage. Start by choosing disease resistant plants and preparing the soil properly before planting. Maintenance of plants and soil is also important to control the diseases.

Garden pests include animals, mainly insects, fungi and other plants usually in form of weeds. The most common pests are aphids, birds, ants, snails, slugs, spider mites, ants, rats, moles and cats. These pests are undesirable to the gardener, so you should find ways to control and eliminate them, although this depends on the gardener’s goals. What is pest to one farmer may not be for another one, i.e. some plants may be regarded as undesirable by some people while they may be grown as ornamental plants by others.

Pests and diseases:

Attack the plants, i.e. leaves, stems, roots, fruits and flowers.

Ruin the soil.

Stunt growth.

Damage fruits or their appearance.

Damage the plants which rot and die.

These problems bring a lot of damage or reduce the quality of the plants and lower the yields.

Pest and disease control

There are many ways to deal with pests and diseases.

Choose pest-and-disease resistant perennial varieties.

Choose healthy plants – from the source, whether it’s from your garden or gardening centers and local nurseries. Inspect the plant to ensure that it doesn’t have diseases or pest damage on the leaves, stem and roots. Inquire about any spots and root rot and avoid plants with such. Don’t buy withered plants hey could be diseased.

Follow instructions – when planting and caring for the plants.

Water regularly – to avoid stressing the plants.

Proper drainage – is very important, otherwise the plants will rot and die.

Remove dead foliage – to prevent any diseases spreading to the plant.

Remove diseased and infested plant parts – so this doesn’t spread to the other parts of the plant.

Monitor the plants – for pests and diseases so you can manage them before they wreck havoc to the plants.

Use organic pesticides to spray the pests and plants.

Use organic fertilizers and herbicides.

Hand-pick the pests and fence the garden and create barriers to keep off pests. Grow pest-resistant and disease-resistant plants.

Grow crops in greenhouses if you can.

Uproot the infected plants.

Use fertilizers as well as bio-stimulants that make the plants strong and healthy and less prone to damages so they can be able to resist attacks.

Practice good garden hygiene by clearing weeds and debris.

Disinfect tools, wash and store them properly.

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