Perennial Gardening in your New Home

Caring for perennial gardens is a challenging and rewarding adventure! Once you have moved into your new home, take a peek around your property and see what you’re dealing with. There may be no gardens at all, in which case you might consider adding one to your grounds. More likely, though, there will be at least one already established. What shape it’s in will be a mystery until you get digging and see what you’re dealing with.

If your new-to-you garden has been neglected, start the job of removing all weeds. Some people find this tedious; others, therapeutic. Once you’ve cleared all the weeds away, you can begin identifying what (if any) perennials in the garden are worth saving. Try identifying the leftover plants by researching in books and on gardening websites. Garden centres are also great resources when trying to figure out what you’ve got growing. If you’re unsure about a plant’s identity, consider leaving it in place until next year. You may be pleasantly surprised with its performance, and if it blooms, you may have a better chance at figuring out its species then.

Amend the garden soil by adding rich compost and some peat moss and fresh soil. Gardening centres sell a pre-mixed blend called Triple Mix with these 3 materials already combined. Or, if your soil is especially moist or dry, you may want to choose how much of each material you add. The end result you want is a rich, loamy, soil that’s neither sandy nor wet. Now is a good time to consider purchasing your own compost bin, so you can start storing up your own supply of rich compost for future gardening years!

Trim up any shrubs, making sure to do it at the right time of year. If you trim at the wrong time, you may be cutting off next years blooms!!! For example, varieties of Macrophylla Hydrangeas will only bloom in some parts of Ontario (due to it liking a warmer plant zone), and they will put buds out for next year’s blooms in late summer. If you were to cut back the hydrangea after flowing, say in October, you would be cutting off all of next year’s beautiful flowers. Different from the Macrophylla Hydrangea, the Lilac is another shrub which has a particular time for pruning. It requires pruning right after it has completed blooming in late spring. Each shrub has its own set of instructions, some easier than others, which is why identifying your perennials at the onset is so important. This way you can research what you have and treat each plant accordingly.

Your next step will be to dig up and divide your overgrown perennials. Some, like Iris and Hostas, can take over the garden and crowd out other plants. Dig carefully around the clump of plant you want to divide, leaving extra room around the edge for roots. You can then take a sharp spade and cut through the root ball (for plants that have this type of root system, like Hostas and Sedum), dividing the plant in 2 or more pieces. Perennials such as Iris have rhizomes, and once dug out can usually be pulled apart. Make sure each rhizome has some root still attached.

Once your perennials are divided, decide where you want them to be. You may not have room to replant all the divisions, so giving away your extra divisions to a fellow gardener is a nice thing to do. You may be the recipient of some of their division’s in future- free different plants! For the plants you have decided to keep, dig a large hole where the perennial is to go (keeping in mind the light preferences of the particular plant). Before replanting, mix some compost and some transplant fertilizer in the hole to help the plant get re-established. Cover the roots with soil, and tamp down gently around the plant. Give it a good drink of water, and you’re done.

Adding mulch always helps plants roots from getting too dry, as well as helping to keep weeds at bay. There are many colours and options to choose from. A popular choice seen around the GTA is cedar mulch, and it comes in many colours. There are many options for mulch, some of which include stones, varying organic mulches, and even plastic.

Renewing your garden will take you sometime to get it where you want it- remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day! Actually, most gardeners will say their garden is never finished and is constantly evolving. So dig in and enjoy renewing your new garden!