Do you want to add some perennials to your yard? Then read on and learn how to plan a perennial flower bed like a professional.
I want to help you start taking your dream garden from the dreaming out to the yard.
Let’s start planning a perennial flower bed.
When you are new to gardening there are a few terms or words that are thrown around that may not be familiar to you. Two of these are annual and perennial plants.
An annual plant is a plant that is planted in the garden with the expectation that in the fall it goes into the compost bin and you start new again the following year. These are your typical bedding plant flowers like petunias, marigolds and sunflowers. They are grown for their bright splash of colour and in deck pots.
A perennial plant is purchased and put into your landscape with the intention of it lasting multiple seasons. While the environment plays into how long a perennial will live, typically a perennial plant can live many, many years. They spend spring, summer and fall growing and producing blooms. Then they die back to the ground and stay dormant all winter, only to start growing again in the spring.
How to Plan a Perennial Flower Bed
When was the last time you walked into a garden centre or nursery? Been awhile? Never? The staff are amazing, and very knowledgable. They’re going to ask you some questions and I want to make sure that when you go shopping you’re prepared!
So I’m going to ask you the same questions that the garden centre is going to ask you!
1. What Plant Zone do you live in?
A plant zone is a geographic area that specific plants are capable of growing in. It’s determined through climate and temperatures of the specific zone.
This is the first and most important question you need to ask yourself when planning a perennial flower bed. You can search all over the internet and read any gardening book or magazine on the shelf and nothing will be able to narrow down your plant selection more than this question.
I live in Central Alberta and I’m in the Zone 3 Plant Zone. Now keep in mind there is a difference between Canadian and United States Plant Zone maps. If a plant is recommended from a publication in the United States and says that it’s a zone 3 it is in-fact a Canadian zone 4 plant.
For Canadians you must always add 1 to every zone United States Plant Zone recommendation. This is why I prefer to use Canadian publications for all reference materials. They reference only tried and true hardy perennials with the correct plant zones.
When I shop for plants I’m looking for hardy perennial, zone 3 plants. I know that these flowers have been tested for their hardiness to my plant zone. These choices are less likely to die over winter and come back up in spring.
As I have become more knowledgeable over the years I sometimes test the boundaries of these limits, knowing full well that my plants may or may not survive the winter. When starting out in perennials I strongly encourage you to grow plants that are hardy tried and tested varieties.
2. What is your budget?
This is really the second most important question when planning a perennial flower bed. Creating and planning a huge lush perennial border isn’t going to be free. You will need to purchase at least a few plants. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money. You can always ask friends and neighbours if they have any plants that they’d like to share and this will help stretch your budget.
When you go to the garden centre or nursery it can be overwhelming. So many plants, in all sizes of pots. Just because a plant is in a small 3.5” pot doesn’t mean is not as good as the same plant in the large 1 gallon pot.
The smaller 3.5” pot is more economical and will get to a mature size eventually. The larger 1 gallon pot will give you a more mature look in your perennial border. Neither choice is wrong. It’s all about the budget and how long you want to wait for your garden to fill out.
3. Is your perennial border in Full Sun, Part Sun/Shade or Full Shade?
Did you know that plants have specific sun requirements? It’s true. The amount of sun a plant can take is very important. That’s why when you look on the tags of plants at the garden centre they will have a little photo of a sun that is either light colour, 1/2 light and 1/2 black or black. That little picture is telling you where that plant wants to grow.
So take a day and watch your potential garden plot. Watch when the sun first shines on that area and when it leaves the area. Plants have specific sun requirements and won’t perform their best if the wrong area.
If you absolutely love beautiful Hostas but only have a hot, dry south facing garden you will need to save those plants for another garden. The same goes for putting hot sun loving plants into a fully shaded garden. They just aren’t going to perform to their very best.
4. Are there any restrictions to the area?
It doesn’t matter if you live in town or in the country you’re going to have something buried in your yard. These can buried cable, telephone, sewer, gas and electrical lines and they will all play into how you can create your perennial border.
While perennials are typically shallow rooted and won’t affect those lines, it’s still important to know where they are. This becomes very critical when you choose to add trees and shrubs to your landscape. Always Call before you Dig up anything in your yard when working on landscaping projects.
Other restrictions you need to consider are road access, future garage or home renovations. It’s good to think a little bit into the future so you don’t have to undo all your hard work. Believe me, I’ve moved far too many perennials!!
5. What kind of gardener are you? Beginner? Intermediate? Advanced? Do you have help?
Many times it’s easy to be wowed by the beautiful gardens of friends, family and neighbours. What we’re looking at is potentially years of gardening and hard work. What we don’t see is the countless hours it takes to keep that perennial border looking like it does.
If this is your first ever garden, I encourage you to start small and see how you like it. For me gardening is kind of like chips. After I eat one, I want another and another. Till all of a sudden I’ve eaten the whole bag and don’t feel so good anymore.
It’s the same with gardening. I start with one perennial bed. Then I add one more. Maybe just one more after that and I don’t want to forget about a veggie garden! Till all of a sudden it’s the middle of August and everything is overgrown with weeds and I feel sick to my stomach and don’t know where to go.
Don’t let your new love of gardening overwhelm you. Planning a perennial flower bed is a process. Start with little bites. You can always add another flower bed next year after you know if you like this whole gardening thing.
6. How much time are you willing to spend on this garden? What is your maintenance time?
This is where you need to be brutally honest with yourself. Do you get home from work at 6pm or later every evening only to rush off to your kids sports? Or do you have a more leisurely schedule that leaves you hours to putter out in the garden?
It doesn’t do you any good to fill your perennial border up with plants that require more work if you don’t have the time. This doesn’t mean you can’t garden. You just need to go with a more low maintenance style.
There are lots of different styles of gardens out there. From large rambling tree and shrub beds with big empty spaces filled with bark mulch and a few larger perennials. To the wild and chaotic English Cottage Garden that is so jam packed with blooms you can’t tell where one starts and another begins.
Knowing what your style is may not come naturally, but popping over to the library or magazine rack and flipping through some gardening pages will quickly tell you what catches your eye.
7. Do you have help for this project? Or are you doing this on your own?
Help isn’t needed for gardening if you’re determined or have a love for DIY. But taking on too big of a project alone can make anyone discouraged. Consider all steps you’ll need to do to get this perennial garden from start to completion. Having a plan will allow you to decide what you’ll do in year one and what you can leave till the following years.
After you have taken time to think through all these questions it’s time to start the fun part, choosing plants! Stay tuned for upcoming posts on how to chose the right perennial plants for specific garden.