Perennial choices for the High Plains – By Steve Scott and Shane Smith

Perennials are probably the most misunderstood of all flowering plants among beginning gardeners. Because they are called “perennials,” people assume that these are plants bloom all season long and require little care. Unfortunately, this is not true. Most perennials only bloom for about a month at best. All perennials require some yearly care including weeding, dividing the plants when they get large, occasional fertilizing and regular plucking of the spent blooms (called “deadheading”). While many perennials are virtually permanent in your bed for many decades, there are many others, which will only live for three to six years. Still, the perennial garden can fill the season with unequaled beauty. Perennials are treasured not only for their flowers but also for the contrasting foliage that they have providing season long interest.

Because each perennial generally blooms for only a month (some more, others less), it is important to plan a perennial bed to have something interesting in the way of blooms happening everyday of the growing season. This requires the planning of a well-timed bloom season by the mixture of perennials that you choose to grow. Other considerations such as height, water, light and soil requirements are important to think about in selecting your plants.

Patience is one of the most important factors to cultivate in growing a successful perennial bed because they may take a few years to reach their full potential. One of the best sayings about perennials is “the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap.”

No matter what type of perennials you choose, it is important to keep in mind the following things. A good rich soil is important to overall success. A greater diversity of plants provides more color and interest over the season. Don’t be victimized by the more aggressive, spreading perennials. Just because it is a blooming perennial doesn’t mean that you must put up with its bad habits of spreading in your bed. If you don’t like the plant or if, in your judgment, you have too many of a particular plant, by all means get rid of it and grow some plants your really wish to grow! A final tip for perennial gardeners is to be sure to tag you plants because it is easy to forget what plant is what after a long winter. A well-meaning spring weeder that didn’t recognize the poor perennial has accidentally dug up many an expensive perennial plant.

These letters on the below pdf correspond to the letters after the plant name. This will help you better understand each plant’s characteristics. Note: if one plant is listed with conflicting attributes it is because there are different varieties of the same plant available, each with differing characteristics. For example: some varieties of a plant may reach only 12 inches while others might reach 3 feet tall, depending on which variety you choose to grow.

Use the key on the below pdf to develop a well-timed and colorful bed. Try to get a mixture of plants that have varying colors and bloom times so that there is something interesting going on in your perennial bed throughout the season.