Wild Things…
Planting Perennials
By Karen Vizzi
   The weather in May has been less than ideal for spending time in the wild garden, but it is important to begin planting perennials as soon as possible.
   Cold, damp springs are often followed by hot, dry summers. Perennial plants must be well established by the time those conditions are upon us or they will never thrive. Although all the rain and cold is not pleasant for us, newly planted perennials love it. Cool, damp conditions help them settle in and develop healthy root systems before the dog days set in.
   The same cannot be said for annuals. Unfortunately, many people are in a hurry to get all their annuals planted, to perk up the yard and get the season started. But annuals are, for the most part, tropical plants and cannot tolerate cool, damp conditions. They also fail to thrive if nighttime temperatures dip below 50 degrees. In our area, it is best to wait until the end of May or beginning of June to plant annuals. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Pansies and snapdragons, for example, do well in cooler weather. In fact, these two plants will occasionally survive over a mild winter.
   When planting perennials, it is important to make sure that the soil is in the best condition possible. Although topsoil provides bulk, it does not contain many nutrients, so be sure to add organic matter (like compost) to the planting hole. Be very careful about adding peat moss! In spite of popular wisdom, peat moss is not the cure-all for soil problems. Peat moss can be good for retaining moisture in some soil types. BUT… when it dries out, it tends to dry out very quickly and can actually wick moisture away from plants. If you are unsure about your soil conditions, it is a good idea to have it tested.
   The planting hole should be twice as wide, but NO deeper than the container the plant comes in from the nursery. The extra width allows you to spread out the root system, but the plant should never be buried deeper than it was originally grown. Occasionally you will find that the roots have coiled around themselves in the nursery pot. Go ahead and tease out some of those roots and spread them out in the planting hole before back filling. Always keep newly planted material well watered for the first few weeks…even if it looks like rain.
   When shopping for perennials, be sure to keep habitat value in mind! Look for plants who’s flowers will be high in nectar content for butterflies, hummingbirds and moths and/or have seed value for fall migrating songbirds. Purple coneflower (echinacea), liatris (gayfeather), rudbeckia (black-eyed susan), penstemons, sedum, salvias, asters and monarda (bee-balm) all fit the bill. And don’t forget a few host plants like milkweed, dill and fennel for the caterpillars!

 
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