19 Aug 2014
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The "Perennial" Solution to Thrifty Gardening

Plant a variety of perennials that bloom during different seasons to add color and interest to your garden.

I've been gardening for nearly twenty years. Throughout the years, I've grown many plants and purchased numerous gardening products. Here are some tips to help you save time and money this gardening season.

Purchasing plants can be expensive. As you search for plant bargains this year, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

When shopping for plants stick to the nurseries that have knowledgeable horticulturalists around to answer your questions, if you are a novice. These nurseries want to keep their customers satisfied and they want to see them return throughout the season.

Perennials are great plants that save you time by resprouting each year. Unlike annuals (e.g. marigolds, zinnia) that have to be planted every year, you can plant a perennial once in the right place and leave it there. Except for occasional dividing, and once a year deadheading, you won't need to spend time maintaining perennials.

In the plant world, bigger is not always better! Most perennials spread and grow through the years. If you plant smaller perennials the first year, you'll be rewarded with bigger perennials the second and third years. From then on, you can choose to divide them or not, although the plants will be happier with occasional dividing. This is a great way to get "free" plants. But you have to be patient. If you can't wait a year or two, and you need the immediate "wow" factor, then purchase larger sized plants.

Smaller sized perennials (quart-sized) will do just fine if you get them from an established garden center. If you do purchase a one-gallon size plant or larger, then divide it, and space the divisions.

Get to know the gardeners in your neighborhood. Gardeners are always "rearranging the furniture" so to speak. We like to dig up plants and move them to different places every year or two for various reasons. Sometimes we're not happy with their performance or we realize they'd do better in a different location. Ask your gardening friends if they would like to "donate" any plants to your garden. Most are more than happy to oblige.

Join your local gardening club. Many garden clubs have plant exchanges where members dig up and exchange plants. If you're a novice gardener or have just moved into the area, this is a great way to get lots of free plants and great gardening advice. When I moved to Bucks County, I received many plants that came from friends in garden clubs. Now when the plants bloom each year, I remember those friends, several of whom have moved away.

Personally, I like to plant shop in the fall. Cooler fall weather is perfect for planting trees, shrubs and perennials. By the end of summer, nurseries will advertise late summer and fall plant sales. This is a great time to get plants at a discount. Of course, the earlier you plant, the stronger the roots will grow, but I've planted shrubs and perennials in November, and had great success. If you plant in good garden soil amended with compost, you'll be farther ahead.

Most perennials either spread by seed or underground runners. Some of the most prolific plants I've found include: black-eyed Susan, sundrops (Oenothera), bleeding heart, hosta, fern, northern sea oats (Chasmanthium), bluestar (Amsonia), creeping phlox, sedum, cranesbill geranium (Geranium maculatum), asters, goldenrod (Solidago), Heuchera villosa 'Autumn Bride' and daylily. Don't buy too many of these prolific plants, because you'll have enough to divide and spread around each year to fill in the blank spaces in your garden.

Last summer was a scorcher. If you purchase plants that are native to our area, you'll find that these will establish themselves quickly, and they'll require less water and maintenance than non-native plants. However, when choosing plants, the right plant in the right place is key. Make sure to read the plant labels and follow the recommendations for light and soil requirements. You'll be off to a great year of successful gardening!

Just about every garden center with a website has a free email list to send you upcoming sales and events. Most area garden centers will send you timely weekly updates full of great gardening information.

Take advantage of your local resources:  Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve (for native plant sales and plant lists),  GasperRussel Gardens Center and  Shady Brook Farm.

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