Renovating a Perennial Bed

Renovating a Perennial Bed

Part of Ep. 602 Back to Basics

Travel to the Rotary Gardens in Janesville.  Executive Director Kim Emerson explains how dividing plants and improving soil rejuvenates established perennial beds.

Premiere date: May 31, 1998

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
This is the sunken garden at Rotary Gardens in Janesville. It's one of fifteen gardens here with many more on the way. You'll notice though, this part of the sunken garden looks very bare and empty. I'm with the executive director, Kim emerson. Kim, you told me you were in the process of renovating the sunken garden. Why and what does that mean?

Kim:
We're renovating because all the plants have grown way too close together and it's time to renew them and so we're going to do that--dividing, things like that--and do some soil amending while we're here.

Shelley:
You said you had a problem with clay so this is a good time to be improving that?

Kim:
A very good time and the way that we're doing that is by adding some peat moss and some compose, mixing it together with the tiller and the soil and that will keep it real loose and pliable for when you're weeding later.

Shelley:
So these are good practices for any gardener whether we're doing an established bed or a brand new bed. If I'm looking at this as a blank canvas, what are my first steps in putting together a perennial garden?

Kim:
First thing you want to do is think about what kind of garden is it that I want to have. And when you do that, think about the soil itself, the sight conditions--are you in a sunny location or a shady location?

Shelley:
Don't plant ferns in full sun.

Kim:
Right, and then look at the different types of plant material you would like to have. In doing so, also think about when they are blooming. Is the particular plant blooming in the spring or is it blooming in the fall?Mix those different ones together so you have color all year long.

Shelley:
So don't put all the fall ones in one spot and ignore spring. Okay, What about the actual design then and the layout once we've chosen our plant list.

Kim:
Well once you've chosen the plants you like the good thing you really want to remember is you don't want to put your real tall plants up front. That might sound silly but it could be done. In this bed, we're waling around it so what we want to do is have our shorter plants in the front and move to the back with our taller plants.

Shelley:
Now tall grass right about here would just block everything off behind it.

Kim:
You wouldn't see the beautiful blooms.

Shelley:
Well, and I've heard it said don't plant in rows, either.

Kim:
Right, the most important thing is to plant in groupings and to use odd numbers. That always seems to make a much prettier canvas.

Shelley:
Little clumps throughout the garden.

Kim:
Right

Shelley:
What about color, too?Can we actually design with specific colors in mind?

Kim:
Sure, in our reception garden, we have used color as a design. We've gone and used purples and blues and whites and mixed them together.

Shelley:
And that happens throughout the growing season.

Kim:
Right, there's constant bloom of those colors throughout the garden.

Shelley:
Okay, We've got our design. Now we're actually gonna do some dividing so we end up with a chance to reorganize and relocate our plants. What's the first step in dividing?
Kim:
First thing we want to do with the plant is cut it back and the reason we do that is to help promote growth to the roots so that when you replant it, it's actually sending out roots and then making the plant really strong before it sends out the growing, the flowering part.

Shelley:
So it's not wasting energy on lots of leaves and flowers. We've got one I think as an example here.

Kim:
Right, this one I've actually already divided. I've cut it back--

Shelley:
So it's shorter--

Kim:
Dug it out, put a flat shovel through it to make it into a smaller clump.

Shelley:
So why do we have these plants under burlap, Kim?

Kim:
Well the reason we're doing is that we're protecting the roots. We don't want them to dry out in any manner so we've covered them with burlap and then I'm moistening them down to protect the roots.

Shelley:
Now can they sit out this way for a long period of time, or how long?

Kim:
The best thing to do is to get them into the ground as soon as possible.

Shelley:
So a couple hours at the most maybe.
Kim:
Right, and keep them moist. From there what we want to do is go into planting them and in doing so we want to think about each individual plant and the amount of space that it will need.

Shelley:
So how much space in between each plant, too. It's always a temptation to crowd.

Kim:
And we don't want to do that because then we'll be back here digging everything up in about two years again and perennials can usually handle four years or so. So what you want to do is space your plants out. Now these solidagos?? I want to probably space about eighteen inches apart. Each individual plant has its own spacing requirement.

Shelley:
So look at the plant and the instructions with each plant when you're planting.

Kim:
So now once you get them all spaced out and you're ready to go, you get them all planted.

Shelley:
Now that looks so empty to me. It seems like that's where I would be tempted to be crowding them. Is there something you can do in these empty spaces so they don't feel so empty?

Kim:
This coming fall what we could do is we could go in and plant some bulbs. And then next spring the bulbs will come up before the perennials. You'll have some wonderful spring color and then ready for summer.

Shelley:
And we're really extending the interests then. Okay, Thanks, Kim. Rotary gardens at janesville has some wonderful examples of perennial design. Let's take a closer look.

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