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Managing Perennials

Managing perennials in the mixed landscape has become a requirement for most Landscape Contractors. But with such complicated plantings and diverse materials, how does one manage these landscapes to optimize the overall design? Communication with the designer is the best way to gain an understanding of how the composition was intended to work. Good designs are often orchestrated with a precision that approaches choreography; providing color and interest through all four seasons. Correctly managing perennials directs bloom time - allowing them to fulfill their intended roles in the overall scheme. Plants that star in the spring display may also be required to play a supporting role in the fall. Left alone, perennial Rudbeckia will bloom all the way into June but cut back in early summer will re-bloom in late summer/early fall. Getting full value from each plant in the design depends on knowing what type of perennial you're maintaining as well as what part it's supposed to play. Below are some general guidelines you may find helpful.

As a general rule, perennials are plants which live longer than annuals but are not quite as sturdy or woody as shrubs. All perennials benefit from cutting back after bloom to tidy them up and remove spent flowers; but how much to cut back and when depends on the plant type and the desired effect. For simplicity's sake, group perennials by how they grow. There are three broad (and rather arbitrary) categories:

Crown - Phygelius, Echinacea, Verbascum, Salvias (rosette types) Late summer is the best time to clean up Crown types. Cutting back crown type perennials in August/September promotes good stem and basal foliage development through winter. Some like Verbascum and Echinacea need winter chill on the stem primorda to promote bud development.

Herbaceous - Campanula, Coreopsis, Ajuga, Stachys Herbaceous types, both deciduous and evergreen, are best tidied up for winter in early fall. The stems of herbaceous perennials are typically soft and may be creeping (Lamb's Ears), tufting (Agapanthus) or bushy (Coreopsis). Early fall clean-up removes spent leaves, pests, diseases and built-up residue as well as preparing plants for winter with enough time to renew growth (if they're not deciduous) and look presentable.

Root Type - Hemerocallis, Dahlias, Alstromerias, Oenothera. Take care when cleaning out the old foliage and flowering stems of Root types; their fragile growing points near the soil surface are easily damaged. Many root types need specialized care (Bearded Iris should be cleaned and divided, if necessary, in late summer/fall). Deciduous types (Dahlias & some Daylilies) need time to ripen foliage and store energy for next season's bloom, so don't cut them back until early December.

There may be no iron-clad rules when it comes to handling perennials but all good maintenance plans incorporate a thorough understanding of each plant including how it grows and what part it plays within the garden as a whole. Communicating with the designer, the guidelines above, combined with your own observations and experience are a surefire formula for creating the optimal maintenance plan for each of your accounts.


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I’m Christine. I am an Account Specialist with Bamboo Pipeline.

I work to supply the highest quality plant material in California and Nevada for your landscape projects. We offer the broadest and best selection of landscape materials delivered direct to your jobsite.


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