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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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Publication Number: M2214
Publication Number: IS1997
Publication Number: IS0656

News

Two hydrangeas are pictured in the foreground of a garden, with one blooming and the smaller one not blooming.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens August 13, 2018

While visiting my parents in Tennessee this weekend, my dad asked why one of their Annabelle hydrangeas was blooming while another -- growing just 5 feet away -- was not. He asked if I had some special fertilizer or bloom juice that could be applied.

I didn't, because the shrubs didn't need any special fertilizer help. It all had to with light.

Several red pepper and a few yellow ones rise above green foliage.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens August 6, 2018

How have we already turned the corner into August? While it’s still hot and likely to continue that way for at least another six weeks, I’m looking forward to one of my late-summer landscape favorites, the ornamental pepper.

These plants have been growing patiently all summer, seeming to wait patiently and soak up the Mississippi heat until our other plants need a breather. If you follow Southern Gardening, then you probably know that I really love the show that ornamental peppers put on in late summer and early fall.

Dozens of yellow flowers fill the frame.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens, Landscape and Garden Design July 30, 2018

The last few weeks have been hot and humid, and many of my gardening friends are ready for fall's cooler temperatures.

Dozens of red, yellow and white flowers grow on long stems.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens July 23, 2018

Because of the oppressive heat and humidity in my coastal landscape and garden, I spent the weekend in the air conditioning, of course.

A plant with light green leaves and white flowers on tall stems grows in the shade under a tree.
Filed Under: Lawn and Garden, Flower Gardens, Landscape Architecture July 17, 2018

With Mississippi's legendary summer heat, everyone wants some shade trees in the home landscape. But with shade comes a unique challenge: what plants thrive with less sunlight? (Photo by Gary Bachman)

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