Choose a location. Where you site your perennial garden determines what kind of plants you can grow. There are perennials that need full sun, full shade, or something in between. Good drainage is important in most cases. If you have a poorly drained site, you can install an underground drain—or plant it with water-loving plants called “bog plants.”
Use a hose or rope to experiment with the shape and size of the bed.Once you’ve found something that works, measure the bed and put the dimensions on grid paper. Then sketch a plan. Or use one of many landscape design programs instead.
Choose your plants. Interesting gardens offer a mix of heights. Tall plants give your garden a sense of drama. Good candidates include:
- Joe Pye weed—a great butterfly attractor, this plant can get 6 feet tall.
- Helianthus—a perennial sunflower, flowers are brilliant yellow.
- Rugosa roses—these tall and hardy roses offer fragrant flowers in early summer.
Medium-sized sun lovers include:
- Coneflowers—purple and orange flowers that grow about 3 feet tall.
- Catmint—a blue-flowering perennial that blooms throughout the summer.
- Ornamental grasses—which are beautiful wavy plants that come in small, medium and tall varieties.
Small, low-growing and edging perennials include:
- Dianthus—grows 6 to 8 inches tall; flowers are sweetly fragrant.
- Blue fescue grass—a spiky blue edger that looks good all year.
- Creeping Jenny—a ground-hugging spreader that offers chartreuse foliage.
Dig the bed and amend the soil. To make the ground easy to plant in, turn the soil with a garden fork (for a small area) or tiller (for a large area). Add compost to improve drainage and fertility.
Plant, following spacing recommendations on nursery tags. Don’t pack perennials shoulder to shoulder—perennials start out small, but they get bigger every year, so give them space to spread out. Dig a hole the same depth as the nursery pot but twice as wide.
- Remove the plant from the nursery pot by turning it gently upside down in your hand. If roots are tangled, tease them outward with your hands. Thick roots that circle around the base of the plant should be cut with a saw or serrated knife.
- Set the plant into the hole, and backfill with soil. Take care to cover all the roots, then tamp gently to remove air pockets.
- Water well. Even drought-tolerant plants need some irrigation to get established.
Mulch the bed. Mulching cuts down on weed germination, helps hold moisture in the soil, and unifies the space. See how this shredded bark makes the garden look more finished—more like a garden?
That’s it. Planting a perennial garden is easy. You can do it in an afternoon. Then you can enjoy it for years to come.