Perennials are often touted as low maintenance landscaping, and they usually are, but that does not mean that they are no maintenance. Much of the care of perennial flowers comes between the time after the tops die back for the year and when the new green shoots are young and still small. But if you don’t get to things until a bit later, that is okay as well. Let’s go through some of the steps you need to have good perennial plants:
- Cut out all the dead tops. Some plants do a bit better if you leave them well into winter, others do fine if you trim them as soon as they start browning. I like to leave the brown stems until a few of the leaves are showing at the base of the plant so that I can find the plants if I need to do something during the dormant season.
- Weed. This is a task that needs to be done any time the soil is not frozen. Surprisingly enough, weeds don’t stop working when it is cold, so you will also need to do a bit of work to keep up with them.
- Fertilize, if you must. Many perennials do well year after year without added nitrogen, but sometimes you need to give them a boost. Adding the fertilizer before the leaves get started will allow the leaves to get to the nitrogen right as the leaf is being created. This is more efficient and means the leaves will not have to play catch-up. If you do fertilize, please use a slow release to help prevent most of the nitrogen from leaching away from the root zone.
- Check your irrigation. Sprinklers for perennials do not need to be as fine-tuned as those for turf, but they do need to be in working condition and pointed to the right area. The winter freeze cycle tends to break irrigation parts and cause sprinkler heads to turn off of you flower beds. Drip lines need to be checked for breaks, cuts, and clogged emitters.
- Look for any plants that need to be divided or replaced. Perennials do have a life span and will eventually get too old and will fail. Dividing the plants periodically will help expand that life and keep your perennials looking fresh and colorful.
- Mulch your plants. The accumulated mulch should be at least four inches. If you cover perennials with mulch while they are dormant, new growth will push through it without a problem.
- Some plants like lavender are used as perennials, but are actually small shrubs that do not do well with cutting to the ground. So make sure you know what plants you have and what kind of treatment each of them needs.
Yes, all of this amounts to a bit more work than is usually thought of when you hear “low maintenance,” but it is still not a big burden when you look at the beautiful flowers you will have over the course of the spring and summer! And it is certainly much better than having to walk behind a mower once a week.