A few ideas to pick the perfect perennials for your garden

St. Joseph lily (hardy amaryllis) is a great perennial, but it’s almost never sold in nurseries.

St. Joseph lily (hardy amaryllis) is a great perennial, but it’s almost never sold in nurseries.

Special to the Star-Telegram

There couldn’t be a better time to talk about planning a perennial garden.

We’re spending more time at home, so we’re looking for ways to brighten our surroundings. Perennials are a sort of horticultural jigsaw puzzle where every part is integral to the success of the final product. Planning is critical.

The old adage is “if it blooms in the spring, you transplant it in the fall, and if it blooms in the fall, you transplant it in the spring.” That includes spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips, so they get stirred into the mix as well.

Iris and daylilies are two more common spring bloomers. Their transplanting time is near at hand. So it’s obvious that there is plenty to discuss about perennial gardening right now. Let’s get started.

Ensuring that it looks good at all seasons

Almost all perennials have a peak bloom time at some point during the year.

For those two or three weeks they are absolutely beautiful. For most of the rest of the year, though, they range from semi-attractive to somewhat unsightly.

You make allowance for that by planting perennials among evergreen shrubs that can pick up the slack in the “off” seasons. You also use an assortment of different types of perennials to ensure that you have a continuum of bloom. Where necessary, you interplant with annuals to fill in the voids.

Siting the perennial garden

Most perennials grow and bloom best in full or nearly full sun. If you have the choice for your perennial garden, a sunny location will always be best. However, if all you have is shade, there still are some nice choices for your consideration.

Since most perennials die back to their roots in wintertime, the most effective way to use them will probably be out in the landscape away from the house where you can back them up visually with evergreen shrubs.

That way, when they are dormant, you’ll still have an attractive backdrop. You can also use them in small pockets of color within the structural framework of your home’s landscape, for example near the front door.

Just keep in mind that each type of perennial will only be in bloom for a few weeks.

Planning the plantings

Think of your perennial plantings on a season-long basis. Consider your color schemes through the various months.

For example, you may want bright and cheerful spring colors in March, April and May. When warm weather arrives in the summer you might switch to cooling shades of blue, purple and dark reds. Then, as temperatures fall in autumn, you could see a change to the rich reds, oranges and yellows.

You need to plan your perennials accordingly so that you have the right things in bloom at those times. It’s disconcerting to have a fiery hot yellow perennial blooming in the middle of cooling purples in mid-July.

Plan for a succession of blooms

Know the months when each type of perennial will flower. Plant so that you will always have two or three things in bloom at any given time from spring until frost. That is precisely why you never want to plant an entire bed into one type of perennial.

And, as you know their comparative times of bloom, you also need to know the plants’ comparative heights when they are blooming. That will enable you to put taller plants in the back and shorter plants in the front of the border.

You may be getting the idea that this is a constant work in progress, and you are exactly correct.

Some of our most reliable perennials

If I were told that I could choose 20 different perennials to get me through a gardening year, this is probably the list I would use.

These are my personal favorites. (Warning – there’s an extra one in my list. I just couldn’t decide which one to cut.) I’ll list them in rough order of their bloom time in my gardens.

Those marked with an asterisk are bulbs.

Neil’s picks

Narcissus and daffodils


Summer snowflakes*

Bath’s pinks

Salvia greggii

Bearded iris

Byzantine glads*

St. Joseph lily (hardy amaryllis)*

Henry Duelberg salvia

Texas Gold columbines

Goldsturm gloriosa daisies


Hardy hibiscus

Summer phlox

Turk’s cap

Oxblood lilies*

Spider lilies*

Fall asters*

Fall crocus (lilies-of-the-field)*

Mexican bush salvia


Friends, I hope this will be of help as you plan your landscape improvements this fall.

Perennials are a great deal of fun, but they’re also as much or more work than annuals. You can see that they require diligent planning. Perhaps this will give you the head start you need to be successful.

Happy perennial gardening!

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at www.neilsperry.com and follow him on Facebook.

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