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Designing Perennial Plantings

While beds and pots of annuals may be replanted with ease, perennial plantings may live for many years and, therefore, require some planning. Flower beds are usually highly visible and should work well into the total landscape design. Otherwise, large areas of the landscape may be bare part of the year.

Many perennials, like annuals, are effective in mass when they are in bloom, but because of their seasonality, they are better viewed as small clumps of color and texture to accent other plants. You can often build a design to support or accent a favorite plant or group of plants. Use small evergreen shrubs, flowering trees, or such hard features as a fence, stone, bench, birdbath, or garden art to enhance a flower garden and "carry" it through all the seasons.

One of the easiest design "tricks" is to interplant groups of flowers that have contrasting shapes. For example, daylilies can have their large flowers set off well by the spikes of blue salvia and the round flowers of yarrow. The large leaves of canna and sword-like form of iris plants have a dramatic effect when used in groups among other less bold plants.

A natural way to begin planting perennials is to create islands of flowers in an open lawn, but because such beds are easily viewed from many sides, they often require high maintenance to keep them attractive.

Border plantings along a wall, fence, or hedge can soften the transition of landscape structures into the rest of the landscape or can create alleys of color. Rectangular beds lend themselves to a border planting where space is restrictive. When planting a perennial border against a hedge, fence, or wall, leave a little space between it and its backdrop. This allows for better air circulation, more light penetration, and ease of maintenance from the rear of the bed. Perennial borders often are 6 to 8 feet wide, allowing adequate space for at least a combination of six or more species, front to back, yielding a continual bloom.

To prevent turfgrass from growing into the perennial bed and becoming unsightly, use some form of broad edging or separating strip. Bricks laid flat, flagstone, bare ground, or a heavy layer of mulch such as wood chips or bark will help keep out grass.

Perennials may be grouped according to color, intermixing plants that bloom at different intervals for a continual display. Early bulbs may be planted with spring yarrow and iris, which usually fade before daylilies and canna begin their season of color. Fall sunflowers and ornamental grasses complete the season. Select plants that have not only attractive long-lived blooms, but those that have attractive foliage.

Plant height is a major consideration. In border plantings, the tallest plants are usually placed towards the rear to serve as a backdrop with a few moved forward to prevent monotony in the design. In island plantings, they are placed towards the center. Fall-blooming perennials are usually the tallest, making them the best backdrop or accent plants. Most of the middle height perennial plants are summer bloomers and may occupy the majority of the middle space. Spring-blooming perennials are primarily short plants; place them toward the front. Emerging foliage and flowers of later blooming plants can help hide the fading foliage of earlier flowers. Narrow beds with excessively tall plants are usually not effective displays. Whether for borders or island beds, keep the width of a planting about twice the height of the tallest plant.

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News

A bumblebee climbs on a single, pink-and-orange cluster of blooms.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens February 10, 2020

One of my favorite easy-care, flowering plants has to be lantana. This low-maintenance plant is highly tolerant of the hot, humid summers in our Mississippi gardens.

It’s no wonder that lantana has been selected as a Mississippi Medallion winner three times.

Small purple berries in clumps line branches with green leaves.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens February 3, 2020

Through February, I’m highlighting plants named 2020 Mississippi Medallion winners. Each of these winners is superbly adapted to our garden and landscape environment.

This week, I want to tell you about American beautyberry, a winner that is a native species found across the Southeast. It is known botanically as Callicarpa americana.

Maroon veins stand out on a sea of chartreuse leaves.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens January 27, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of introducing the 2020 Mississippi Medallion Winners at the Gulf States Hort Expo in Mobile, Alabama. This is a special group of selections, as the Mississippi Medallion program is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2020.

The plants selected for 2020 include Colorblaze coleus, beautyberry, Luscious Series lantana and Garden Gem tomato.

A person with yellow gloves on planting a shrub.
Filed Under: Lawn and Garden, Flower Gardens, Landscape Management, Vegetable Gardens January 27, 2020

It may be chilly outside, but don’t let that deter you from going outside and working in your garden and landscape. Grab a jacket and your gardening tools, there is plenty to be done during February! 

Different varieties of pink and white dianthus flowers.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens January 17, 2020

I don’t think you can go wrong with some dianthus in your landscape in 2020.

I love the flower colors that include pink, red, lavenders, white, and bicolors. The foliage of these plants ranges from being grass-like to broader strap-like linear leaves. Plus, the foliage provides contrast with colors ranging from bright green to steely blue-gray.

There are some great selections that will do a fantastic job in our Mississippi gardens and landscapes especially in the cooler months of the year.

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