Planning a Perennial Border

A perennial border requires a little planning to be able to achieve a perfect border of color, texture, and form. You can have a fabulous looking perennial border by taking the time to plan your border. Sometimes planing a garden is compared to composing a symphony. Each flower makes its own statement, just as instruments blend the sounds together to form beautiful music. Growing perennials will give your flower beds color and life in the summer time. They also do very well as container plants.

Because you do want your perennials to blend or contrast with other plantings, you need to consider such topics as, the planting bed, plant lists, bloom sequence, plant placement and spacing, and bed preparation. These topics will be elaborated on in this article of helpful facts and information on perennials.

"Perennial Border"

Beautiful Perennial Borders

To start with, locate where you intend on having your border. It may be on either side of a sidewalk, or in a garden enclosed by walls, fences or hedges. Flowers show off to their best advantage when planted against a solid background. If you do site your bed in front of a solid background, make a narrow path behind the bed. This will provide easy access for tending the plants and prevent you from compacting the planting bed with your footsteps.

The border should be in scale and proportion to its location in your landscape. Small perennial borders should be at least 5’ to 6’ wide. You will find that having it 10-12’ is an ideal depth for long beds. Stay clear of any trees that may have invasive roots.

*Tip- to extend the season of perennials in areas with hot summers, try to locate your perennial border out of the heat of the afternoon sun.

Your Plant List

You will need to decide if you want to have only perennials or whether it will be a mixed bed, with bulbs, annuals, biennials, roses, or shrubs. If you use only perennials, place spring, summer and fall blooming plants in groups, forming a set pattern of bloom through the border. If it is a mixed border, fill in the blooming gaps with flowering bulbs and annuals. Which ever design you choose, be sure to pick perennials that have longer blooming periods for the sake of continuity.

"Perennial Plants"

Perennial Coneflower

Bloom Sequence of Perennials

Perennial will have a different time when they bloom. The challenge for the gardener, is to time the sequence of the bloom time to get the maximum effect. When you make your selections be sure to choose perennials that are early, mid, and late season bloomers.

Use some tracing paper to plan your sequence of bloom and color. Use a different sheet for each month and lay them on top of each other to see how one blends into the next. It may take more than your first try to get the results you want. You may need to actually see how the plants perform in your micro-climate. The next year, you can always move the plants around. When you do get everything in the right place, it will be well worth the effort.

Mass Plantings of Perennials

If you want a maximum impact from your perennials, you should group them together in masses of from 3 to a dozen plants. The smaller the plant is, the more of them you will need to make an impression. Small groups will look fine in smaller gardens, but for larger gardens you will need larger and bolder masses of color. Some plants will be able to stand alone such as, Paeonia (peony) or Gypsophila (baby’s breath).

"Perennial Flowers"

Brightly Colored Butterfly Weed

Plant Placement

Your plants should all mesh together from front to back or from side to side. Create interest by planting irregularly shaped masses of each perennial so that they can weave together. Try to consider the horizontal and vertical relationship of the plants as well as the texture of the foliage. Remember that the foliage will be there all season, and the blooms will only be there shortly. Because of this fact, you should make sure that taller plants are placed toward the back of the bed, and smaller ones are placed in the front. Try adding a few surprises here and there in your bed to break up the monotony that may occur. You can do this by taking a few of the taller masses and placing a couple of them randomly into the shorter ones.

Spacing of Perennials

Your perennials will look small when you first plant them. It will be hard to realize that they will grow and fill in the bed, but they will if you space them correctly. Most types will be able to fill in 12” gaps or larger. As the perennials send up new shoots every year, they’ll fill in gaps in no time. It will not be long before you will be dividing your plants and you will have plenty of them to spare. The spacing directions should come on a tag with your plant. Ask your nurseryman any questions that you might have about your plants when you purchase them. If you don’t have a tag it is easy to look online and find each plant with complete directions.

"Perennial Beds"

Soapwort is a beautiful perennial plant

Perennial Bed Preparation

Perennials have the potential to grow in the same place for many years, even decades in some cases. The better you prepare the bed, the happier the perennials and the longer their life will be.

Prepare the beds in the fall to a depth of 12” (minimum) to 24” (ideal) by single or double digging. If your planting plan includes shrubs or roses, I urge you to dig the full 24” depth. Add any soil amendments as requires, and let the beds settle over the winter before planting in the spring. If this is not possible, prepare them as soon as the soil is workable in the spring and water well to settle the soil before planting.

*Tip- If you were unable tyo prepare the beds in advance, plant the perennials slightly deeper to accommodate for the soil’s settling.

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