How to…plant perennials

by Drucilla James

Perennials keep coming back year after year, in the garden but also in designers’ sketchbooks.

Their popularity is understandable, offering as they do a marvellous range of forms; an array of leaf shapes and textures and a rainbow of colours. And while their habit of dying back in the winter (unless they’re evergreen) means they don’t have the staying power of many shrubs, they bring dynamism to the garden and the promise of their return each spring. Hold off on the cutting back and many will also offer faded but sculptural foliage and seed heads through the colder months.

Perennials can live for just a few years or much, much longer.

Planting herbaceous perennials

Before you get started, it’s worth drawing up a planting plan showing where each plant will go – this will come in very handy once you get outside and when your perennials have disappeared during the colder months. As you do it, you can check that each plant will be in a place where it’ll get the light, moisture, space and shelter that it needs. From a design point of view, it works well to plant each variety in groups of odd numbers – threes, fives or sevens.

Things you’ll need

1. Your plants

2. Garden fork and spade

3. Organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure

4. Mulch

Step by step

1. Loosen the soil and remove all weeds and their roots from the planting area.


2. Many perennials thrive in a moist, well-drained soil so you’ll need to dig in organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost if you haven’t done so already.

3. Using your planting plan, lay the plants out on the ground in their pots and then make any necessary tweaks to their positions.


4. Water all the pots thoroughly and let them drain.

5. Most perennials need to be planted at the same depth as they were in their pot. Once you’ve dug each hole, place the container in it and, if you need to, add or take away soil under the pot to get the right level.

6. Then remove each plant by inverting the pot and, if necessary, tapping the base, and then sliding the pot off the roots.

7. Tease the roots from the base and sides (here you may find new shoots growing and will need to take care they are not damaged). This will encourage roots to grow out into the soil, allowing the plant to establish more quickly.


8. Place the plant in the hole and add soil around the root ball, checking the plant is upright. Firm in using your fingers.


9. When all the planting has been completed, water well and add a thick layer of organic mulch.

Herbaceous perennials can be planted at any time but spring and autumn are best as plants have a chance to establish before weather conditions become more challenging.


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