Spring perennial planting

Farm Forum

There is always something to do in a garden – some pruning, raking, weeding or just checking on things to see what new is blooming or growing. This is also the time for the uncovering of old plants and planting new ones. Planting using bare root plants is a great way to get plants at an economical price and probably find some of those special plants that are just not available from your local garden center or discount outlet store. But, now is the time when all those beautiful plants are on display and available, and you just want to buy one of everything! But there are some things you should do before you head off to the garden center.

First assess the garden to see how many plants from last year are coming back up. That will help you to decide if there are any holes to fill in with new plants. Hopefully you have some labels by your plants to aid you in finding them, or you can look for the old stems from last year to tell you where they were growing. It is OK to remove the bigger, old plant debris now by cutting the stems off down close to the ground. But, be careful of any new shoots that might be emerging. If you cut or break them off now, they may not regrow very well. Also, keep in mind; some plants are slow to come up in the spring. Hibiscus, for example, may not start showing signs of life until early June. So don’t immediately think that some plants are dead. Try carefully digging down with your fingers to see if you can find some new shoots below the soil surface. Or, just give them some more time and avoid trying to plant anything new in that spot for now. You can always add some annuals later to fill in gaps and add some color.

It is OK to leave some of the smaller leaf litter behind, that will act as mulch and also break down to provide some nutrients and organic matter to your plants. Once you have a better idea of how much space you have, and what the sunlight conditions are, you can start thinking about what kind of plants you might want to buy to replace the ones you lost.

The amount of light a particular garden site receives is often one of the most important criteria in selecting new perennial plants. A site that is considered to be a full sun location should get at least 6-8 hours of sun per day; a part sun location usually gets 4-6 hours of sun per day while a shade location will get less than 4 hours of sun per day, or dappled sun, like you would get under some tree branches, for a longer period of the day. Plant height and spread are also very important considerations. As you are considering potential planting spots in your garden, think about how tall you would like that plant to grow. It is usually best to have taller plants toward the back of a bed or in the center of a bed that is observed from multiple sides. Shorter plants should be planted closer to the front of the bed. Check the tags in the plants’ pots or read information on the bench cards to learn more about the various plants you see. Or, speak with one of the employees to get some advice . Usually local garden center staff will be eager to help and be knowledgeable in the plants they are selling.

Once you get to the garden center, you might be tempted to think that you need to buy one of everything. It is kind of like going grocery shopping when you are hungry. You are better off to make a list of what you need, or in the case of plants, a list of the sites you need plants for. But, most gardeners end up getting at least a few plants that they really have no idea where they will plant when they get home. They will just carry them around the yard until they find a spot to tuck them in. Some gardeners have a “master plan” of their garden and know exactly what they want. But, I think that kind of takes the fun out of it. I like a little more adventure and the challenge of finding new plants that I did not expect to see, buy, or plant into my garden.

When you get your new plants home, do not be too eager to plant. Even though you have bought perennial plants that should be hardy to your area, they will not be very frost hardy coming straight from the warm greenhouse. You should harden them off for several days to a week; setting them outside in the morning and taking them back inside for the night. That way you will be protecting them from potential frosts and getting them ready to take the higher light conditions of being outside too. Make sure you check them regularly for water. Often times these plants can be fairly large for the containers they are growing in and may dry out fairly quickly.

Lay out your plants on the ground, where you want to plant them. It is easy to move them around to get just the look you want. Be careful not to plant them too closely together since perennials will often spread over several years. But, if you want the garden to look fuller, space them slightly closer together. Again, the plant label should give you information on how much plants will spread when well established and growing for several years. Plants that produce runners, rhizomes or stolons will spread more rapidly than plants that tend to have a main central crown and only increase in size slowly over many years.

Remove any additional plant debris then use a sturdy garden trowel to dig holes for your new plants. Make the holes large enough to easily accommodate the size of the pot. If you make the hole a little larger, that will make it easier for your plant to establish new roots more quickly. Just don’t make the hole too deep. If you bury the crown of the plant too deeply it could rot or the plant might not grow or flower well. Usually you can use the plant as a guide so that that the top of the root ball is at the soil surface, just like it was in the container it was growing in. Firm the soil around each plant with your hands.

The last and very important step is to water each new plant thoroughly. I recommend using a hose with the water pressure turned down or a “breaker” or “rose” on the end of the hose or wand to reduce the force of the water and avoid washing out the soil. Water right at the base of each plant so that you help to get the soil filled in around the roots. If you just stand back and water a bunch of plants at once, it will not be as effective. You will also need to continue to water these plants more frequently than established plants because their root system will still take time to extend out into the surrounding soil.

A question from Spearfish, SD

I’m hoping you can help me identify the type of weed that I have. I have tried basic weed control spray but it doesn’t seem to affect it. I have tried various websites to try to identify this but can’t seem to locate a match. I am located in Spearfish, Lawrence County, South Dakota. The weed is in full sun and compacted soil (see attached pics). Anything you can do would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

This is a rather obnoxious plant called bur buttercup. It can be a tough one to control. It often grows as a winter annual, meaning that it starts to grow in the fall, overwinters as a small plant, then starts to grow again in the spring, flower and set seed, often before the first part of May. I would recommend using combination weed control product in the fall or glyphosate. They will be much more effective on the young seedlings in fall than in the spring. Often this weed will be growing along the sidewalks, in pathways or in other sites with compacted soil. This weed can be a real pain, literally as those burs can be quite sharp when they mature.

Do You Have Gardening Questions?

You can submit your gardening questions to the Ask-an-Expert section of the iGrow.org website in the “Gardens – Gardening”. There you will be able to type in your own question on the Ask-an-Expert portion. An Extension horticulture professional or a Master Gardener will reply to the question, in most cases, within 48 hours. Then an email alert is sent to you, with a link to the personalized answer. I personally check this website for incoming questions and provide answers when I can. If you would like one of your questions to be included in this iGrow Gardens column, just include “Farm Forum” at the beginning of your question so that I will be able to see that you might like to see your question show up in the column. I will check the site and use some selected questions and answers in upcoming columns. While you are on the iGrow website, check out all of the other great resources that are there for you to use, not only for gardens but also for many other areas of agriculture production.