Growing Perennials in the Cold North and Midwest Climates is not Always Easy
People say it all the time, "...just plant perennials and you're done!"
Perennials, like annuals, sometimes require special care, specific micro climates and experimentation, especially in the northern gardens of the midwest. But if you are willing to "play" a little, they are well worth the effort. And once you have found the perfect spot for your favorite perennials there is generally much less care involved than annuals. Some perennials, even hardy perennials, need winter protection in the cold northern climates. Replanting is not required every year, but many perennials do need to be thinned or divided every few years. Your reward, however, is more plants to share or fill a new bed.
Perennials do not all live forever either. Be careful when you make your selections, and talk to the nursery staff. Some plants presented in the perennial section of your garden store are even biennials (live for 2 years, but typically re-seed). Generally, perennials bloom for only 2 or 3 weeks, so a perennial bed requires a little more planning to make sure you always have something in bloom, and blooming sporadically throughout the bed. Intermix the showy with the subtle but interesting. And also consider the color and texture of the perennial foliage in your plan. A great deal of interest and beauty can be achieved with colors from deep greens, silvery grays, and variegated or mottled yellows, whites and limes. Leaves from deeply veined and coarse or dimpled, to fine lacy fronds can add a variety of texture to the garden. Plant tall and spiked plants along side those with arching branches, or full and rounded forms. Look for perennials that live a long time, and that bloom a long time (see next page for a few ideas). And of course, make sure your perennial selection will thrive in your growing zone. With the foliage colors and textures adding interest while not in bloom, and annuals tucked in here and there, you can achieve season long beauty.
When selecting hardy perennials for your garden, be sure to check the zone rating for the plant. Then consider your planting site. Is it an exposed windy area? This micro-climate may be up to a zone colder than the rest of your property. Or if it is a protected area near the house, it could be a zone warmer. Keep in mind that a severe winter in your zone may actually expose your plants to conditions of a more northern zone. Some winter protection is always recommended in the north or midwest garden to ensure that your perennials survive whatever the weather presents, even hardy perennials. Hardy perennials heavily protected with deep mulch, leaves mounded in and around the base, and a good snow cover will often survive winters in zones north of their hardiness rating.
And don’t discount rose bushes as too fussy for your easy care perennial garden. Even in the north and midwest, roses are getting easier to grow. There are many rose bushes that will thrive in zone 3 or 4 with no more care than a hardy shrub. Be sure and check out the pages about hardy shrub roses. You will find hardy rose bushes that add beautiful blooms to your garden all season.
See the Best Performing Perennials pages for overview descriptions and pictures of hardy perennials. And development of a perennial database is underway! Check it out!
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