Planting Your Perennial Garden:
Size and Age of the Plants:
You can buy perennial plants in a variety of pot sizes and with varying levels of maturity. At Open Air we bring in perennial liners in early spring and we plant them into a 4 inch pot and sell them with only a couple months of root development. At this growth stage we can sell them at a lower price point. The perennial plants we don't sell in the spring we shift up to larger 1.5 gallon pots and we sell them in the fall of the same year. What we don't sell in the fall we take home and overwinter them in a heated greenhouse. The bad thing is you end up paying more money for this plant, but the good thing is you buy a more mature plant with a well established root system. When you buy a perennial plant always remove it from the pot and look at the root system. When removing the pot you should find a well developed, white, root system. Years back the recommendation was to cut these roots up with a knife because the plant was likely to be root bound. These days, it is more than likely not necessary to do this because the plant probably hasn't been in the pot long enough to become root bound. I can tell you it is better to buy a plant with too many roots than not enough. It is more common to buy a shrub or a tree that is root bound rather than a perennial flower. Check your shrubs and trees more closely. If you see more roots than soil, you will need to prepare this plants roots for planting. Planting Root Bound Perennials
Check the Plant Tag:
The tag will always tell you plant height, spread, and USDA hardiness zone. If you walk into a store and think every plant they are selling is perennial in your zone, you would be wrong. Always check the tag and know your USDA hardiness zone. USDA zone map: USDA plant hardiness map
Dig the hole twice as big as the pot it is growing. This includes width of the pot and depth of the pot. Throw the dirt from the hole into a wheelbarrow and use a spade or shovel to break the dirt up as fine as you can get it. If you need to amend the soil, this is the time to do it. Mix in your compost, sand, gravel, what ever you are using to amend with, into the wheelbarrow and mix it up really good. Use this mix to fill under and around the plant. DO NOT MAKE THIS MOST COMMON MISTAKE. Many people plant a perennial lower than the surrounding soil and this is a huge mistake. I think people do this because it makes sense to plant the plant in a depression and this depression will aid in watering the plant during the heat of summer. This depression will hold water and prevent it from running off in the summer. This logic is good and does make it easier to water in the summer, but the problems with this strategy will occur in the winter. Every small shower, every small snow melt will end up in this depression and many perennials will crown rot because of this strategy. When you are finished planting a perennial it should be level with the ground around it or slightly crested. This will prevent water from pooling around the crown of the plant in the winter. Save the plant tag by putting it in a drawer in the garage cabinet. The plastic tags we use today are not sunlight resistant and if you place it in the ground next to the plant it will be gone within a year, especially if the sun can get to it.
Want a Native Plant?:
A plan to plant native species is a great plan. These are very hardy, low maintenance, low water plants that will perform with very little care. These plants can be hard to find. Understand that many of the perennial plants we grow are hybrids of what was a native species. The attributes I listed above are good but understand when you're in the business of selling flowers, color is better. Millions of dollars have been spent to hybridize native plants into better color, more flowers, different colors and often times this breeds out the hardiness, low maintenance, and other desirable characteristics. True native plants are hard to find. Not only for me, but they will also be hard for you to find. The key is to find the natives that have been hybridized into a plant that keeps the native characteristics but also provides more color, longer color, bigger color, and better and different color. When you do this you have a keeper and everybody is happy. Those plants are out there and we look hard to find them and bring them to market. If I can give one piece of advice it would be this. When you go to the nursery to shop, don't ask for native species but rather ask for low maintenance, low water, hardy perennials that grow well in our area. These plants are plentiful and much easier to find. This link will give you a good list of natives for our area: Native Plants For Nebraska