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Tips for Getting of Perennials Right

The perfect time to plan a new border or revive an old one is when the weather’s cold, the garden’s bare and its structure is easy to see. Perennials are a good place to start. Easy to grow, there are hundreds of plant shapes and flower colors to choose from – but selecting which ones to buy can be a daunting process. I recommend asking yourself six important questions:

1 What is your soil like?
Most perennials grow in well-drained soil that doesn’t stay wet for long, but there are varieties that tolerate very dry soil (such as baptisia, euphorbia, eryngium, echinopsis and verbena) or really wet soil (including actaea, astilbe, hosta, Iris pseudacorus and zantedeschia). Because most perennials originate from meadow or grassland, they prefer a soil that isn’t too rich, but if you’re uncertain about your soil type, buy a testing kit and make sure you test in different areas of the border.

2 How much light do plants get?
The amount of light available to a plant also restricts your choice. Standing where your plants are to grow, look at where the sun is. Most perennials need sun for a good proportion of the day, say from 10am to 4pm, but others, such as epimediums, hardy geraniums and trilliums, are natural woodlanders and love shady spots.

3 How tall and wide do you want plants to grow?
Perennials come in all shapes and sizes. Use tall ones to grace the back of a border, with short, spreading types at the front. When perennials re-emerge in spring, they strive to reach their ultimate height and width within one growing season, so they’ll grow at different rates. Therefore, make sure you don’t plant tall-growing perennials in front of short ones if they bloom at the same time. However, you can play clever by positioning later-flowering, taller-growing perennials to camouflage earlier-blooming, shorter perennials as they die down.

4 When would you like the plants to flower?
I love my garden to have flowers for as much of the year as possible, but if you only use it when the days get warmer and lighter, you might as well focus on achieving a wonderful color splash for those particular months. For instance, if space is limited, don’t waste money growing early spring-flowering perennials at the back of your plot that may never be seen but, rather, focus on brightening up the part of your border closest to the house.

5 Which flower colors do you really prefer?
Just like your home decor, flower color choice is a personal thing. Most of us have favorite shades and combinations that can be reflected by using a number of similarly colored plants to create an eye-catching palette. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t put together two disparate tones, such as yellow and pink. If it’s what you want, go with it!

6 What do you want flowers for?
Other considerations to help focus your plant list include whether you’d like to attract wildlife with nectar-rich flowers for pollinators, or want to cut blooms regularly for your home. If space is limited, look for long-flowering varieties or those with more than one season of interest.

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