Wednesday, August 05, 2009

'Perennial Mistakes' by guest blogger C.L. Fornari

It was 85 degrees yesterday and so muggy that moss is growing on glass gazing balls. But I was digging in the perennial garden because there are areas that need to be fixed.

A dear friend had visited me over the weekend, and it was the first time she’d seen my gardens at Poison Ivy Acres. As we walked around the property, she commented on the perennial border on the backside of the house. “That was an interesting choice you made,” she said, “to plant those tall daisies at the front.” “That wasn’t an interesting choice,” I replied, “that was a mistake!”

I explained that I’d ordered seeds for a cultivar of oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) when we moved to our new property. Many of the seeds germinated and I had several plants to put into my perennial border in June. Thinking that this cultivar would grow about the same height as the species, I put three groups of the seedlings in the front of the flowerbed. The first summer the plants grew to 8 inches high…this year, when they came into bloom, they were 4 feet tall. Oops. (Top Picture)

Every gardener needs to rearrange at some point or another. Maybe the plants were put too close together, or perhaps one has spread just a bit too enthusiastically. Many people wait to transplant until the fall or spring, and I agree that spring is probably the best time to move things around.

However…in the garden things often succeed against all odds. Those daisies were faded by the third week in July, and I’m not going to live with tall empty stems for the rest of the season. I deadheaded the plants and removed two of groups from the garden. I put half of them in my cutting garden and the rest into pots to be planted at a future date. I replaced the daisies with some Heucheras; 3 Southern Comfort and 3 Georgia Peach. Yum. (Lower Picture)

If you have mid-summer mistakes in your perennial garden and want to take action right away, here are some tips for success:

· Dig as much of the root system as you can for each plant, and place them directly into their new location or into pots.
· Water them immediately, even if rain is expected.
· Don’t fertilize the plants you’ve moved until next year, but do water them deeply with the frequency depending on the weather. Water more in hot, sunny weather and less when the temperatures are cool. When hand watering, take your time: a deep soaking less often is better than a quick squirt every day.
· Replace plants that you’ve removed with other perennials or annuals; you don’t have to wait for fall to put plants in the garden! Annuals or perennials planted in early August will give pleasure through the rest of the summer, and the perennials will be back again in the spring.
· Be sure to water the new plants you’ve put in regularly – they will need more frequent watering than those that you planted earlier in the season. Check them daily for signs of wilting, water them well before they dry out but don’t keep them constantly wet either. As these new additions grow larger root systems they’ll need water less frequently.

C.L. Fornari is a garden writer, speaker and out-of-control plant person. Her website is and she blogs at

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