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Plant Perennials for Permanence and Color

By James Feucht, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension specialist, landscape plants

If you love the idea of a yard filled with flowers, but don't like the annual ritual of buying and planting, a perennial garden may be the answer.

More and more, gardeners are choosing the perennial garden option.

The initial cost is greater, but the payoff comes in the long run as perennials mature and bloom year after year with less maintenance than annual flowers require.

Before starting, you'll need to consider location, soil conditions, garden size and types and sizes of plants. Here are some ideas to help you get your perennial garden underway.

Location

Pick an area of the yard that you can see from a deck, patio or other outdoor living space. Most perennials prefer all-day sun, so consider exposure. Be sure flowers won't receive shade from fences, large shrubs or trees. If part of your property faces an undesireable view, you can locate the perennials to draw the eye away from that area and toward the beauty of the plants.

Soil Preparation

If your soil is heavy clay -- as is most soil along Colorado's Front Range -- you'll need to amend it by plowing or spading in peat moss or well-aged cow manure. Spread about an inch and a half of the amendment over the area to be planted, and mix it into the soil. The organic matter will improve drainage, aeration and water-holding capacity. It also will make existing soil nutrients more available to the plants.

Garden Size and Shape

The best rule of thumb is to plant no more than you can easily maintain. You might want to begin by designing the garden on graph paper, so it will be drawn to scale. Then use string to mark straight lines on the ground. Use the garden hose to mark curved areas.

Use garden catalogs and books to select plants based on their height at maturity, date of bloom and color. Don't forget, however, to include old-time favorites.

Place low-growing plants along the edges and taller varieties to the rear of the garden. Repeat varieties so there are coordinated splashes of color throughout the garden all season. With careful selection, you can have something in bloom from early spring until frost.

Plant Varieties

A wide variety of plants are available to provide color all season. Crocus, snowdrop and early tulips provide start blooming in March. Cottage and Darwin tulips, daffodils, primrose, golden alyssum and candytuft will provide color in April and May. Columbine, peony, delphinium, shasta daisy and oriental poppy bloom in June. Day lily, blanket flower, pentstemon and red hot poker burst onto the scene in July, and baby's breath, phlox, speedwell, aster and various chrysanthemums finish the season with blooms in August and September.

For good measure, add a few annuals here and there. Annuals can fill in while perennials grow large enough to provide a good show of color; thereafter, a few well-chosen annual plants can add a bit of needed variety with little extra cost or effort.

Accent plants, such as the spike-like delphinium and foxglove, perform an exciting function in the perennial garden. Choose scarlet, yellow or white. Be judicious, however. Just as too much spice can ruin a meal, so can too much accent ruin a garden. Use these varieties sparingly.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010