3 easy steps to care for you, your yard, and the environment at the same time.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Affiliate Disclaimer: This post, document, email, or site may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, The Plant More Project may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). We use this money to help run our organization and continue our mission. Here’s a link to our full disclosures, terms & privacy if you’d like to read more.

Did you know that every yard is a piece of the environment?

Photo courtesy of Louis Maniquet

We are all connected on this little blue ball, and no matter how much we want to draw lines in the sand, we can’t. The connection remains.

Everything that happens in your neighbor’s yard affects your yard and sometimes the yard down the street, the water system that runs under you, the air around you, and so much more that science doesn’t fully understand yet. Sometimes things we do on one-half of the planet affect areas on the other side of the earth.

What is your little ecosystem like, and how does it benefit or harm the rest of the environment?

Is it a place that helps you live happier, healthier, and longer? Does it allow wildlife to thrive? Does it support other living beings like plants and beneficial insects? Do the things you do in your yard support the environment at large?

Your yard is a tiny living ecosystem connected to the larger ecosystems in your state, country, hemisphere, and so on. The choices you make in your piece of the pie make a difference for the whole pie.

Are things thriving in your yard? If they are, this is a pretty good indicator of the health of your area.

If they aren’t, then you might have a problem or even a dying ecosystem. This isn’t good. But, you can figure out what is going on and help fix it.

Here are three easy steps you can take to increase your yard’s health and the ecosytems connected to it. Taking care of all ecosystems takes care of you and your family now and in the future.

Photo courtesy of Sergiu Valena

Step 1) Are you using too many fertilizers, pesticides, or chemicals in your yard? This could be the issue. Maybe you aren’t, but others around you are, and that is affecting your ecosystem.

If we think about our yard connecting to the next yard, and the next, and the next, we can see how each one contributes to the health or decline of the environment in general.

We all have a piece of the environment where we live. It doesn’t matter if it is a 20-acre property, a balcony garden, or a simple house plant in the bathroom. They are all part of the same system that contributes to the health of the planet and our environment.

The health of the environment translates into your health and well being. The healthier our environment, the healthier you are. So consider discontinuing the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals in general.

Photo courtesy of Ocean Cleanup Group

Non-point source pollution is pollution that comes from a wide range of places. What you do in your yard matters and contributes to this type of pollution. Ending the cycle of fertilizer, pesticide, and chemical weed killer addiction can help reduce and hopefully eliminate this type of pollution. You have the power to control this type of pollution in your slice of the pie.

When it rains, most of these chemicals are washed away right into our water systems. If you don’t want to drink it later, I don’t suggest putting it in your landscape.

Look at the dinosaurs. They didn’t get that big because their environment didn’t support them with healthy foods, clean air, clean water, and lots of room to expand—the health of the environment matters. When the dinosaur’s habitat no longer supported them, most of them were doneso.

Believe it or not, change is much easier than you think. Yes, this is very optimistic, but if we don’t start looking at our current situation optimistically, we don’t have much hope.

Even though it’s a bit scary, we must face it head-on and do what we need to do to reverse course and fast. Our health and the health of many other creatures on the planet demands it.

So with a high degree of hope and positive thoughts, all it takes is looking at each small area as part of the whole and acting accordingly.

Before you use the chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides from the big box stores (just because they had a cool commercial that said you should), stop and think about it. Do you really need it? Would you’re little environment do better without all that stuff? Did it thrive before those chemicals were created? The answer is a big fat YES!

Plants thrived for millions of years before that stuff came along, and they will continue to do so if we work with the natural laws that govern their cycles.

Allow plants to go through their natural cycles and don’t trying to push them with chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides.

It is a very tiny thing but has a significant impact on the health of the environment. Plants have been doing this for millions of years. I think they know what they are doing at this point.

A recent study by the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom believes that plants first came on the scene approximately 500 million years ago. That is 100 million years sooner than scientists first thought they did.

Plants are millions of years old you would think they understand their environment a tad better than we do, right? Work with nature instead of against it.

Photo courtesy of Sigmund

Step 2) Another tiny step is to plant more plants that enjoy the area you live in. Natives are fantastic and the first choice, but you can also grow things that are a zone above and below you and see how they adapt.

Remember, those millions of years have given plants the ability to figure things out better than we can at times. There are so many factors at work with climate change that you can’t possibly predict what will work and what won’t. You must do a little bit of experimentation.

You can’t force a living being to thrive because you want it that way. We must work with nature if we’re going to fix this current environmental disaster on the planet.

Choose plants that like the soil, air, temperature, and water supply in your tiny ecosystem. Taking time to plan first will save you time, money, and a ton of stress. It is also a great way to get in touch with your part of the ecosystem.

Watch how the sun shifts from the morning hours to the evening. Does it get full sun, a little bit of sun, or shade most of the day? That is a great place to start.

If it is a shaded area, you can eliminate plants that need full sun.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Larson

How about moisture? Does the area stay wet? Is it dry? Does a lot of wind flow through?

One by one, you can determine which plants will thrive in that area. Don’t try to push for things that won’t succeed in the conditions you have. Mother Nature wouldn’t force a plant to grow where it isn’t right, and neither should we.

This little step reduces the need for constant maintenance, chemicals, and repeated replacements of dying plants. You want to pick plants that will do well in an area without as much input from you. This way, you can enjoy them more, and they can enjoy and contribute more to their environment.

Photo courtesy of Nicole King


I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say they want this (insert some exotic plant species here) to grow in an area where it will not thrive. They pay good money for the plant and expect it to live. They are usually pretty upset about it when it dies. I get that.


But take a step back and look at the soil, the sunlight, the natural water sources and see if those factors are things that would allow the plant to thrive if you weren’t there to take care of them. If they wouldn’t, then maybe that isn’t the best choice for that little ecosystem.


Why torture yourself or the plant? Instead, take a tad more time planning and then pick things that would do well if you walked away.

Photo courtesy of Clint Mckoy


Step 3) Another tiny step you can take to improve the planet’s ecosystem as a whole is to not kill off older large growth trees and plants.


Instead, plant trees that will outlive all of us.


Plant a 12″ seedling (baby tree or plant) in the right place so that it can live its full life out in that spot and grow to its maximum size, and hopefully very old. If you don’t want to trim too much, make sure you know exactly how large that tree or plant will grow. Plant it in a place where it can do its thang. Let it grow to its maximum size in the right spot.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Smith


Planting this way will be less maintenance for you and a happy, healthy plant and environment for years to come.


Every time we plant a new tree or plant, especially the large growing, long-living varieties, it helps filter the air, water, and soil and pulls carbon from the air. Planting large growth, long-living trees is a positive step for your little environment and the ecosystem it’s connected to.


The larger that tree gets and the longer it lives, the more beneficial it is to the system. Larger, older trees can sequester (or pull) more carbon from the environment.


This cools the ecosystem, and with enough of these large growth, long-living trees, and plants, the planet. We want more old-growth (long-living) trees and plants in our environment.


If you can’t do that, then plant things that thrive in your area with little input from you and live long and prosper (that’s for you Star Trek fans).


So you can see that the way we plant and the plants you choose for your yard, balcony, patio, and so on make a difference-a big difference.


Even something small like a house plant makes a difference. House plants contribute to both your indoor environment and your outdoor environment. It is all connected.

Photo courtesy of Veeterzy


If you planted a long-living, large tree on your property, then you are really doing your ecosystem and all that is connected to it a great deal of good? If you plant a long-living patio or house plant, you are still doing a world of good for yourself and those around you.


There are so many other benefits of plants and trees in your ecosystem and the environment at large.


They provide shade for your home (so you save on cooling costs)—shelter for animals like songbirds (who eat bugs and weed seeds), and cool the planet through transpiration from their leaves. Amazing sauce.


Trees planted in the right place can increase your property value too.


You can even use trees to protect your home from storms. If you want to know more about this, read this article I wrote about wind mitigation barriers for Mother Earth News Magazine (February 2021).


So as you can see, your choices have a significant impact on your personal environment and the environment at large. The more people who take advantage of all this goodness, the cleaner the whole planet gets.


It also gets a whole lot prettier, in my opinion.


Start with something small today. The benefits you receive will amaze you.


If you have more space, think about how you can incorporate larger trees if possible. If you want to plant large trees but don’t have space consider donating to The Plant More Project, and we will plant large growth trees for you.


Ever sit amongst the trees and feel right at home? That is another massive benefit trees and plants provide. They help ground and calm you. If you are calm and happy, you send that out into the world. That helps our environment too.


Trees and plants can not be underestimated. Without them, we are pretty much doneso too.

Photo courtesy of Adam Niescioruk


I encourage you to shout it from the rooftops and then go plant more, in the right place, of course.


So what is your environment like? It is a place you can feel good about? A place you can enjoy, relax, and breathe easy in? How do you contribute to the environment?


Let me know in the comments below. And if you have specific questions about plants or gardening, please feel free to post them below.


Have a great day.


Plant Power On!
Stephanie

What Zone are you in? Understand your zone for garden success

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Affiliate Disclaimer: This post, document, email, or site may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, The Plant More Project may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). We use this money to help run our organization and continue our mission. Here’s a link to our full disclosures, terms & privacy if you’d like to read more.

Are you zoning out? Don’t worry. Zones are simple to understand and a great tool to achieve gardening success.  

Knowing what a zone is and how to use that information can be extremely helpful when planning your garden. Knowing what zone you live in can mean the difference between a successful harvest or frozen oranges. 



Photo courtesy of Aleksei Leshkin

Understanding zones also helps you choose the best landscape plants for your area to survive both hot and cold temperature fluctuations. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) created the cold zone map. It is commonly called the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, or Hardiness Zone Map. 

Think of hardiness as the plant’s ability to deal with the cold. I need a jacket to deal with 30-degree temperatures; the plant doesn’t have that option, so you need to follow its hardiness guidelines by picking plants that don’t need a jacket when it gets cold in your area: plant jackets, good visual.

The Hardiness Zone Map (cold zone map) is created by taking the “average annual minimum winter temperature” and splitting it into 10-degree Fahrenheit zones. For example, Zone 3 is 10-degrees colder than Zone 4, and so on. 

There are 13 zones on this map, but most people say 11 because the U.S. doesn’t have areas that often hit Zone 13. Zone 1 is the coldest, and Zones 11-13 being the warmest in the winter months. South Florida is Zone 11, while Maine’s zones range from Zone 3-6. 

In 2012, they revised the map using new technology, extended measurement periods, and more sophisticated analysis. Some areas received a new zone during this time, so look at the 2012 version, not the 1990 version. 

A great example of this zone change would be South Florida. Many areas in South Florida used to be 10 a or b but were adjusted due to new information (and climate change) to Zone 11.  That means plants that do well in hotter areas like Puerto Rico or Southeast Asia may do well in South Florida because it is a warmer area in the winter months.

Will your plant thrive or die in your zone? Photo courtesy of Silvestri Matteo

Knowing your zone impacts what you grow. Knowing that your area can deal with more heat-tolerant plants may lead you to experiment with plants that might thrive in a hotter climate, like South Florida. Knowing that your plants can deal with colder winters would lead you to pick plants that fit a more frigid zone like in Maine. 

The average minimum temperature is calculated over thirty years and is a great guide to help us know how cold it gets in certain areas, on average.  Keep in mind this has changed dramatically from year to year and will continue to do so as the climate shifts due to climate change. There is no way to know the exact temperature fluctuations, especially these days.  Use the zone maps as a guide and use your innate connection to nature to make the best decisions for your garden.

Still, it is a good starting place and a helpful estimate to chart when the last frost might be in your area so you can get your summer crops started inside in preparation for warmer days.  Armed with this information, you can be pretty sure that a plant labeled for your zone will do pretty well in the winter months. 

But cold isn’t the only thing you need to think about for a successful garden. What happens when it warms up? Is the plant you picked suited for your zone when it’s hot outside?  This is where a heat zone is valuable.

Lucky for us The American Horticultural Society (AHS) created a heat zone map that works in conjunction with the Hardiness Zone map to help us know the maximum, or estimated maximum, hot or higher temperatures in our area. 

They consider 86 degrees or above as a heat day. Again, this guide lets us know how much heat a plant can take before it starts to decline and shut down.  Tropical plants can take a lot more heat than plants that thrive in Maine.

Photo courtesy of Reid Zura

That is why areas like Texas, Florida, and California can plant palms, but you don’t see many palms decorating New York City streets. New York City and Texas are in different zones, making a big difference to a plant’s health. 

Photo courtesy of Joseph Pearson

If you live in Zone 8b, you wouldn’t want to try a tropical plant from Zone 11 because that plant may not be able to deal with how cold it gets in Zone 8b in the winter, but you may try something from Zone 9 a or b and see how it does. You might also see if something from 7 a or b works.  

At the same time, you wouldn’t want to pull something from Zone 3 and plant it in Zone 10 because it might not be able to deal with the heat. Some plants can deal with a vast range of zones. Check before you purchase. 

I like to do my experiments with lower-cost plants or seeds that I’ve saved. This way, if it goes poorly, I’m not freaking out over that $300 fruit tree I bought that is dying because of a frost in my zone.

Photo courtesy of Thanti Nguyen

Instead, I grew it from a delicious organic avocado I ate and loved and saved its precious seed for the experiment. For me, that feels better. It is also how Mama Nature does it. She lets a bunch of seeds fall to the ground, and the one that makes it wins. 

So back to zones. Let’s say Mama drops that avocado seed to the ground, or I planted my saved seed in Zone 9, and it is a bit cold that year. The seedling grows but never actually produces fruit. In the back of my head or my garden journal, I have a note that says I planted a plant that usually thrives in Zone 10-11 in Zone 9.  Maybe it was just not the right setting for this plant.

But then the next year, it is hot, and I try again with another avocado seed. It is scorching that year and consecutive years after, and the seedling grows. It starts to fruit in five or so years, and I get a harvest of delicious avocados. I note that in my journal too. It was warm enough for that plant to thrive in all seasons. My zone may now be right for that plant. 

Now, I can start to see patterns. The plants from the warmer climates are growing well; the plants from colder zones aren’t doing well. Using the zone information and experimenting with the zones above and below your zone will show you what will thrive in your garden. 

Many plants have zone information on their tags. You can always look them up in a Google search as well. It is best to use the Latin name if you can find it. For example, the Latin name for a snake plant is Sansevieria trifasciata.  

If you live in Zone 6, and the label says Zones 1-6, it is a pretty good guess that that plant will be ok over the winter in your area because it is ok in colder zones.  If you picked a plant that said Zones 8-11 it wouldn’t do well in Zone 6 because it gets too cold.

The same goes for the heat zones. If you pick a plant for Zone 5 and plant it in Zone 10, it may die because it can not tolerate the heat during the summer. 

I know I keep saying the same thing repeatedly because this is an essential concept to understand. Picking the right plant for the right place is what knowing your zone is all about. Understanding zones and the right plant, right place rule can make your gardening adventures a real joy. 

It also helps give you a clear picture of how to plan your vegetable gardens the following year and how to create an easy to maintain landscape year-round. 

Within your zones, you will also have microclimates. You could have multiple mini climates in one yard within your zone, and you need to look at that before planting. 

Let’s say you are in Zone 7, but you have a massive tree in the yard that shades a lot of the space. Plants that enjoy the sun are not the best option for that area. Go with plants that thrive in Zone 7 and like the shade and coolness of that area under the tree. The tree has created a cooler area or a microclimate.

However, on the other side of the yard, you see the sun shines all day long; it is a bit dryer and warmer there, so maybe an apple tree would do well there if you are in Zones 3-8 (depending on the apple variety).  Again, this is a microclimate in the same zone.

I’m giving mostly food examples, but this applies to ornamentals (plants that are there for their sexy good looks, not to produce food for you) as well.  When you choose landscape plants (ornamental plants), you want to make sure they will do well in your zone during the winter and summer (cold and heat). You also want to look at the microclimate you are planting in. Full sun, shade, mixed.

So you can see how knowing your zones can make a difference in the success of your gardening.  Most big box stores know this and carry plants for your particular area; see the plant tags for zone information. Some will have the hardiness zone, and some will have both the hardiness and heat zone information.

But beware that many of those big box store plants come from nurseries that clone their plants. We talked about this in the seed post that cloned plants aren’t the best option for a robust and healthy garden long term or the planet’s biodiversity. So keep that in mind. 

Big box store plants are also usually covered in chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides to keep them looking show floor ready until you get them home—something to ponder. 

So when you put together the cold zone and hot zone information, you get a good picture of your area and what to plant, and when. 

Planting tomatoes in the middle of a Nor’easter won’t give you tomatoes, wrong zone. Growing those same tomatoes indoors a few weeks before the last frost in your zone is a great idea and gives you a jump on your summer planting season. You will know the approximate last frost date by looking at your zone. 

Knowing how much heat those same tomatoes can take will provide you with the tools you need for the perfect planting time so you can enjoy a delicious tomato salad with friends and family. 

So what zone are you in? How will knowing your zone change how you garden or experiment with gardening? 

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and questions. 

Plant Power On! 

Stephanie

Perennials, the plants that keep on giving year after year

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Affiliate Disclaimer: This post, document, email, or site may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, The Plant More Project may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). We use this money to help run our organization and continue our mission. Here’s a link to our full disclosures, terms & privacy if you’d like to read more.

We talked about annuals in our last post. Now, let’s talk perennials.

So what exactly is a perennial? A perennial is a plant that lives for two or more years. Some perennials flower often, and some do not.

In the case of many flowering perennials, unlike flowering annuals, which bloom in one season then die, the perennial plant will continue to live, and new blooms will come up year after year.

Photo courtesy of Julia Yansen

The term perennial is used to describe plants that live for two or more years but aren’t woody, like trees, shrubs, and some vines. Trees, shrubs, and some vines are perennials because they live for more than two years, but most gardeners don’t call them perennials and instead focus on herbaceous plants (non-woody) when speaking about perennials.

Some perennials can go on for many many years if the conditions are to their liking. Those conditions include the right light, amounts of water, balanced nutrients, and oxygen levels.

Roses are a perennial that can live for far more than two years. In the right conditions, they will bloom year after year. Photo courtesy of Sheela Brennan

The needs of a perennial are based on the specific species of plant and the environment they are planted in. As always, it is a bit of an experiment, but when you get it right … voilà, you’ve got it made with some beautiful long-living plants.

One of the most significant differences between flowering annuals and flowering perennials is that flowering annuals will usually bloom and keep those blooms for most of the season, where flowering perennials will bloom for a few weeks, and then the flowers die back.

You get a more prolonged seasonal bloom with annuals, but you get years of flowers with most flowering perennials. You get to pick what works best for you and your garden.

Although I love a wide variety of perennials, in this post, I will focus mostly on the perennials that provide flowers since most people want to add pops of color to their garden. Just keep in mind there are many other types of perennials to choose from.

Tulips are very showy perennials. Photo courtesy of Boudewign Huysma

When the flowers on an annual die, you can be sure that the plant will die shortly after. Remember, they need to drop seed to become new plants the next season, not so with perennials. Just because the perennial flowers are gone doesn’t mean that the plant is gone. Many bulb species of perennials die back and the bulb stays alive in the soil to get ready for next year’s bloom.

Often, indoor bulb perennials are cut back and then put in a warm dark place to do their “thang” next year. Tulips are a great example. Usually, you buy them in the store when they are at their showiest with big beautiful, colorful flowers. A few weeks later, the flowers die. Then, the leaves die, and you think you lost everything. You didn’t! Wahoooo!

They are perennials, so they are still alive under the soil and will come back the next year. That is the cool thing about perennials; they live for more than one season.

How neat is that? All that valuable information stored under the soil, ready to pop up when the season is right. Ah, Mama Nature, you are incredible.

With that in mind, you will need to plant your bulb varieties in your garden with the knowledge that they will come up, bloom, then go back under the soil until next year. You don’t need to rip them up or do anything special, but you can. I’ll go over that a tad later.

I like to mix bulb perennials into the garden design in front of evergreens. The evergreens give you a fantastic backdrop for the perennial blooms when they come up. Think of the perennial bulbs as the front row plants or the hidden plants in your garden.

Some species of perennials only live for two or three seasons. Some gardeners will work with these species as biennials or even annuals because of their short lives. Again, the choice is yours as to how you use them.

Some perennials don’t flower at all. And, some perennials flower and don’t die back or have a bulb at all. Just think of perennials as ongoing but not woody. That is the main takeaway.

With perennials, the design possibilities are endless. Perennials are lovely for texture and visual interest in the garden. There are tons of perennial species to choose from.

Photo courtesy Pawel Bblazewicz

You have ground-hugging, tall spiked, rounded, arching, heart-shaped, bold leaf, dramatic clumps, spiky, bushy, and the list goes on and on.

Lupines are short lived perennials. They live approximately 2-5 years on average.
Photo courtesy Annie Spratt

There are also a ton of textures to choose from. Bold, spotted, variegate, splotched, two-toned, striped, feathery, broad leaves, thin leaves, and again this list goes on and on too.

Perennials offer a huge range of colors, textures, and shapes to choose from.
Photo courtesy Macau Photo Agency

You have options for shade-loving or sun-loving perennials. Remember most brightly colored flowering plants like the sun or at least a lovely filtered sunlight. Bright flowers don’t usually do well in shaded areas. But some perennials do enjoy the shade, such as Hostas. With all these options, you can have some fun playing with perennials.

Watch how the sun lights up your garden before planting perennials. You should know if they like full sun, filtered light or shade before planting.
Photo courtesy of Scott Webb

Before you plant, take the time to watch how the sun hits your garden. This tiny step makes a huge difference for the long haul. As far as bulb perennials go, select the shapes, textures, and sizes you want to see in your garden when the Spring comes. Bright flowers usually enjoy more light.

Make room for those bulbs to come back up and bloom. Check your zone for the best options for your area.

Winter is the perfect time to start pulling ideas for your garden and making notes.
Photo courtesy of Carolyn V

Winter is a great time to make a garden plan or to get a journal to keep notes or make sketches for your Spring garden. Try a free garden design program to layout options or draw it out by hand. Planning and researching prior to planting will save you time and headaches. Researching is also a ton of fun, and you learn so much preparing your perennial garden.

Figure out where all your hardscape items will go, like paths, benches, water features, and decorative garden art. From there, take the time to look at the space and imagine the colors you would like to see pop against your other plants.

For example, if the evergreen is silver, then place a darker flower, maybe purple, red, or blue, in front of it. If the evergreen is darker, think about lighter color flowers like pink, white, or yellow. Contrasting perennial colors will give your garden a dramatic touch without the yearly maintenance associated with lots of annuals.

Of course, you can plant both annuals and perennials in your garden. If you did leave annuals in spots to go to seed and grow new plants, you will have that benefit as well. To learn more about gardening with annuals the easy way, check out this post.

Think about your zone when searching for plants, bulbs, or seeds. Read the estimated bloom dates, growth habits, water, and light needs for that plant. Researching plants is part of the fun of gardening, and it gives you a good starting point, but as always, you will need to experiment. Again, this is the perfect winter project.

You can create a gorgeous show in your garden if you plant things that bloom in succession. You won’t miss the perennials that have died back for the season if you have another coming up right behind it. Bulbs are great for this purpose. You can create a succession garden in containers too.

Succession gardening is a fun project to do with the kids. By planting bulbs that bloom at different times, you will have a garden or container that changes with the season. Succession gardening is also a great way to feed the pollinators a variety of foods.

Perennials planted in succession (so the next species is coming up after the prior species’ flower died back) is a great way to help pollinators and keep color in your yard.
Photo courtesy of Boris Smokrovic

You wouldn’t want to eat just apples every day, all year long, and neither do the pollinators. Variety is the key to life. So plant a variety of perennials, annuals, and biennials in your garden.

You can buy perennials in several ways.

1) You can purchase bulbs, which means they come as bulbs without soil or flowers. Plant those in early Spring where you want them to bloom, cover, and wait for the growth at the proper time of the year in your area. Although most bulbs are perennials, not all will do well in all areas and come back. Please check with your local Master Gardeners to find out what species will do well in your area and how to care for them.

2) You can purchase plants that are already blooming and transplant those. In my experience, the blooms don’t last as long as the planted bulbs. Planted bulbs have time to enjoy their new home and are a tad stronger than plants shipped across the county sitting in a cold store until you buy them and bring them home. That is a whole lot of stress on the plant. Make it easier for them to grow and start with bulbs. You can also purchase seedlings or seeds. I find that seed is always the best for diversity and healthy plants.

When planting most plants, you want to plant at the same depth as the root line. This includes most bulbs. You can usually see the soil line from the nursery. For seeds, a good rule is to plant the seed the same depth as its height.

When transplanting from a pot, make a hole three times as wide and twice as deep so the roots can spread out. I like to cut about 25% of the roots off to stimulate growth. Backfill the hole so the root line matches the soil line.

In my opinion, you should do this with all of your plants. They just grow better; that has been my experience.

Prep the soil, so it is a nice place to live, has good drainage (think about how sand drains well and clay holds water, you want something right in the middle), and also has good organic matter (think about how manure holds moisture and is filled with nutrients). A little bit of both will set up a garden for a long life. This is true for most plants.

Once planted, most perennials don’t need much help. Less is more. Start with great soil, plant the right plant in the right place and let nature happen. You can give them a little water to stay slightly moist but not soaked. Stop watering when the ground freezes.

If you picked the right plant and put it in the right area of the garden (shade-loving in a shaded area, sun-loving in a brighter spot), you should be good to go.

You don’t need to overwater your garden and should allow nature to water as much as possible. You want to create a garden that does most of the work for you. You do this by following the laws of nature. Right plant, right place, great composted soil, enough water but not too much, and great air and light. Gardening this way is easier for you and the garden. Researching what the plants like before planting really helps.

You can give your plants a 1/2 tsp of Epsom salt circled around the bulb or roots and mixed with some composted soil. It helps with blooms. Please do not put Epsom salt directly on the bulb or roots of plants. Spread out the Epsom salt in the hole you made and mix it with composted soil. This is a great practice after you have dug the hole twice as deep. You can backfill with the Epsom salt/compost mix to reach the root line level for your plant.

I feel very strongly about not cutting back dead leaves all the time. Let the leaves die off and compost on their own. This is a good practice and has worked in nature for millions of years, so there must be something to it. There is a lot of something to it, and we will explore that in our soil post. Fallen leaf mulch is an excellent fertilizer for plants.

When leaves are dying, some plants take back some of the leaves’ sugars to become healthier the next year, so it is a good reason not to cut away all the yellow on plants. Sometimes it is ok, all the time, not such a good idea. Let the sugars go back, and the leaves drop naturally.

You may see that your perennial plants are multiplying. That is a great sign. Plants like those with healthy bulbs will reproduce underground, which means you have more to plant or share. Some will reproduce via spores like ferns. Some like Hostas produce at the roots. You can dig the plants up and separate them gently. Then, plant them in other spots, pots, or share them with friends. This is another benefit of perennials.

If you see your perennials look a little sad and tired, it may be time to split them up and give them some room. It is good practice to divide perennials every three to five years. If they have dead spots in the center, or smaller flowers or the leaves are getting sparse, it may be time to divide them. But, if they look happy you can leave them alone.

If you do divide, early Spring for colder areas is a prime time to separate them. This gives the plants a chance to get strong over the summer months. If you live in a warmer place, try the Fall and let the plants grow roots in the mild winter months.

Dividing means more plants, and more plants mean planting more. Planting more is always great, but please don’t divide while the plant is blooming. Creating a flower takes a lot of energy, and if you split them at that time, you are doing damage to the plant.

If you are in a cold area, you can also pull the perennial bulbs up after the leaves die back and store them in a paper bag once they are dry. Keep the bag in a warm, dark place. The garage works great. Then, the next year before bloom time, plant them or share them with others. Most other perennials can stay in the garden over the winter months.

Again, if you picked the right plants for your zone and put them in the right place, they should do well. Some people like to cut perennial plants back to about 6″ above the ground to hold up the snow and protect the roots or bulbs.

I say experiment. I believe in nature’s power and think they will do ok if you picked the right plant for the right place.

So, what species of perennial are you going to try planting? Tulips? Ginger? Ferns? Hostas? Lupines?

I can’t wait to hear what you planted and see your photos.

Plant Power On!
Stephanie