Keeping a journal is the key to updating your perennial gardens

My perennial border is quickly coming to life. As I have my daily “walk around” I can see the little plants breaking dormancy and reaching for the sun. Local gardeners wonder how their plants in the perennial border survived this past cold and relentless winter. So far things seem to be moving along and right on schedule.

Your carefully kept garden journal from last summer will list those perennials that need to be replaced, those that need to be divided and perhaps some suggestions for new plants that would be perfect for your garden.

When buying perennials, keep in mind the color, height and light requirements of the new plants. If you refer to the map of the perennial border in your carefully kept garden journal, you will be able to place the new plants in the perfect location.

You may have noticed my reference to the garden journal. It is the most important garden tool you have. The maps, daily weather information plus lists of what is blooming, what is doing well, what is doing badly and suggestions for next year is the strategy that will produce the lovely garden we all want. If you don’t have a garden journal start one now.

I have several new perennials that are ready to go in the garden. The first of May is the perfect time to plant perennials. They can stand a little frost and at this time of year the ground has warmed up enough to give the little plants a nice start. This year is different. I have put off planting my perennials until the middle of May when I hope the soil will be warm enough. That means that my perennials are sitting outside in a sheltered spot where I can keep them watered until such time as I can get them in the ground.

When you are ready to plant, make sure the location has the correct light requirements and height requirements for your plants. I have a gardening friend who plants three perennials in three different spots. He watches to see which plant does the best and then he transplants the other two perennials.

When planting perennials dig a hole twice the size of the root ball. Research shows that perennials grow outward and not downward. Therefore do not worry about digging deeply. Just deep enough to enrich the soil a couple of inches.

Bring a container into the garden with you to place the soil you remove from the planting hole. This soil is full of weed seeds just waiting to get a little sun to germinate and cause you trouble.

This is the only time you get to properly amend the soil. A soil test will tell you what additions your soil needs. Soil should be light and fluffy like a down pillow. Place the little plant in the planting hole taking care to keep the soil levels the same in the bed as the soil level in the container. Fill in around the plant with the amended soil.

Take time to stake the plant. The easiest way is by placing a circle of five stakes around the outside of the plant. Link the stakes together around the perimeter with cotton string and then place the string diagonally across the top of the plant. I like to use cotton string because it will not hurt the plants or soil if some is left in the garden. Over time the plant will grow and the whole structure will be covered with foliage.

Mulch carefully to keep those pesky weed seeds from getting a glimpse of sun as well as conserving moisture that is needed by the new plants. As you work in the perennial bed, planting, removing and dividing perennials you will have a chance to improve soil throughout the perennial border.

Now is the time to divide late summer blooming perennials. Leave the spring and early season perennials to bloom before dividing them later in the season. When dividing a perennial, remove the plant from the garden. Lay the plant on a tarp in the shade covering the plant so it will not dry out. Divide the plant on the tarp with a shovel or two garden forks placed back to back. Some plants divide easily others are so crowded that I have resorted to using an axe. After the plant is divided, amend the soil, cut back some of the green leaves and plant.

Be careful when giving away free plants. I have a horrible weed in my garden of which I cannot get control. Therefore I make it a rule that my perennials are not shared. Also be careful when taking “free” plants from friends. I am convinced that weed came from a “free” plant.

Your perennials are not a no maintenance plant. It is true you do not have to plant them every year but they need weeding, fertilizing and the daily watering of new plants until they get established.

Grab that garden journal and note the name of the new perennial, location of the new perennial on your perennial garden map and the year it was planted or in years to come the year it was divided.

I like to update my garden journal at the picnic table with a glass of iced tea and my garden tasks for the day finished. It gives the gardener a sense of accomplishment to read back through the journal, to note where you were last year at this time and the garden work that you were doing. A well kept garden journal is your most valuable garden tool.