I am not sure how I got started in perennials. My friend gave me a few starts to throw into some landscaping I had out by our big boulder one summer. I started off planting annuals and a few bushes around it. Now, it's completely taken over by perennials and I love it. My friend Dayla runs an actual perennial farm and I've purchased a lot of plants from her. The more I learn from her, the less intimidated I become!
Before you go knee deep in perennials, I advise you to learn these few basics I've learned before making the commitment. Unlike annuals, these guys come back every year! Well, they're suppose to anyways. If you have all the right conditions.
1. Bloom TimeDifferent varieties of perennial plants bloom during different stages of the seasons and for various amounts of time depending on the plant. You want to diversify your landscape by choosing a variety of plants so you have color all summer long. Some plants may only bloom for a few days and that's it! You want to choose plants with longer bloom spans. I personally don't like some of the classics like iris and peonies because of their short amount of bloom time. However, some perennials can produce beautiful greens and look like a nice round bush all summer. My personal green favorite is sedum. It doesn't bloom until fall but looks like a beautiful succulent round bush all summer. So, don't expect to throw a plant in the ground and have it bloom all summer. I made the mistake of putting mostly spring bloomers all around my deck with a few late summer bloomers and now I have a period of where nothing is blooming in June. I'm slowly working on getting that fixed.
Perennials will need a lot of water before they establish roots their first year after being planted. The second year, they have established roots and will not need a lot of water if there is a normal amount of rain. Obviously, you need to water everything during a drought. I have been watering some new rose bushes and lilies everyday when I water my annuals and they are looking a lot better now than when I was watering them only once a week. I currently am not watering anything I planted last summer and everything seems to be doing okay. We've had moderate rain fall this summer. We had an extreme amount this spring and I think that has helped with the soil moisture levels quite a bit.
Just like annuals, there are different varieties of perennials that thrive in the sun and some that thrive in the shade! You need to do your homework especially in your shady areas. Common shade lovers are hosta varieties, coralbells and ferns.
The awesome thing about perennials is that you can split, divide and dig up starts to grow new plants. This not only can save you money, but it keeps the plant from becoming overgrown. You can trade starts with friends and family! It's a lot of fun to get a start of a new plant from somebody. In just a few summers, starts can take off into full size plants! The best time to split and divide perennials is the beginning of spring before anything has bloomed. Don't try to do it in the middle of summer. The plant my not thrive very well in the heat. Some plants are sensitive to division and can go into shock after being transplanted. It may take them an entire year before they start looking decent again. Don't give up on them! Just keep watering. Some perennials are extremely hardy and easy to divide. Hostas, lillies and sedum are famous for their capabilities of division and hardiness. You can split a large hosta into so many little plants. If you're unsure how to divide plants, have a friend or relative give you a quick lesson. It's actually really easy once you learn your different plant varieties and where the need split. Some perennials like iris and lilies reproduce with bulbs and those you have to dig up.
Something I am learning the hard way is that you need to give perennials room to grow. They are going to really go crazy once they get out of their pot and into the ground. Some plants grow quicker and bigger than others. It really all depends on the variety. If you find yourself in a situation where all your plants seem to be growing into each other in the middle of summer, give them a trim like you would a bush and divide them next spring.
Something you also need to consider is the height of a perennials. You don't want to put something really tall like purple cone flower in front of something short like a balloon flower.
Not mandatory by any means, but it's a good idea to mark your plants in the fall before everything dies back. Your plant is literally going to completely disappear over the winter. Once the dead foliage is removed or blown away, you won't know what is planted where. Create stakes with the plant names or take pictures so you have an idea what will come up where the following summer. You don't want to accidentally mistake a plant for a weed! I also would like to know what did and didn't come back. I planted some daffodil bulbs practically on top of some of my plants this spring because I had no clue where anything was! This fall I am going to mark specific plants and take photos. If you're really into your landscaping and perennials, it may be a good idea to keep a diary or a photo diary so you can know what to expect each year and look for patterns. The hard part is, every year is different. A bunch of things starting coming up in March last year and this summer, some of those same plants didn't surface until May and even June!!
These are just some 5 basic things I've learned on my own through experience. If you need help or have any questions about your perennials please leave a comment or email me! If I don't know the answers, I have some excellent resources I can turn to. I will probably need answers to the same questions you may have! Please understand that I am a beginner too and not an expert by any means. Maybe someday :)