Spring Perennial Planting Back »

Many perennial flowers can be purchased as flowering plants in your local garden center.

Planting Spring Perennials

There is always something to do in a garden – some pruning, raking, weeding or just checking on things to see what new is blooming or growing. This is also the time for the uncovering of old plants and planting new ones. Planting using bare root plants is a great way to get plants at an economical price and probably find some of those special plants that are just not available from your local garden center or discount outlet store. Now is the time when all those beautiful plants are on display and available, and you just want to buy one of everything! However, you should do some things before you head off to the garden center.

Garden Assessment

First, assess the garden to see how many plants from last year are coming back up. That will help you to decide if there are any holes to fill in with new plants. Cool spring weather may have delayed emergence of perennials so do not give up on them right away. They might still emerge when the soil warms up more a little later in the spring. Hibiscus, for example, may not start showing signs of life until early June. Hopefully you have some labels by your plants to aid you in finding them, or you can look for the old stems from last year to tell you where they were growing. It is OK to remove the bigger, old plant debris now by cutting the stems off down close to the ground. It is OK to leave some of the smaller leaf litter behind, that will act as mulch and also break down to provide some nutrients and organic matter to your plants. Once you have a better idea of how much space you have, and what the sunlight conditions are, you can start thinking about what kind of plants you might want to buy to replace the ones you lost.


Considering Surroundings

The amount of light a particular garden site receives is often one of the most important criteria in selecting new perennial plants. A full sun location should get at least 6-8 hours of sun per day; a part sun location usually gets 4-6 hours of sun per day while a shade location will get less than 4 hours of sun per day, or dappled sun, like you would get under some tree branches, for a longer period of the day. Plant height and spread are also very important considerations. As you are considering potential planting spots in your garden, think about how tall you would like that plant to grow. It is usually best to have taller plants toward the back of a bed or in the center of a bed that is observed from multiple sides. Plant shorter plants closer to the front of the bed. Check the tags in the plants’ pots or read information on the bench cards in the greenhouse to learn more about the various plants you see. Or, speak with one of the employees to get some advice. Usually local garden center staff will be eager to help and be knowledgeable in the plants they are selling.

Check the information on the plant's tag for cultural information.

Plant Selection

Once you get to the garden center, you might be tempted to think that you need to buy one of everything. It is kind of like going grocery shopping when you are hungry. You are better off to make a list of what you need, or in the case of plants, a list of the sites for which you need plants. However, most gardeners end up getting at least a few plants that they really have no idea where they will plant when they get home. They will just carry them around the yard until they find a spot to tuck them in. Some gardeners have a “master plan” of their garden and know exactly what they want. But, I think that kind of takes the fun out of it. I like a little more adventure and the challenge of finding new plants that I did not expect to see, buy, or plant into my garden.

Preparing Your Plants

When you get your new plants home, do not be too eager to plant. Even though you have bought perennial plants that should be hardy to your area, they will not be very frost hardy coming straight from the warm greenhouse. You should harden them off for several days to a week; setting them outside in the morning and taking them back inside for the night. That way you will be protecting them from potential frosts and getting them ready to take the higher light conditions of being outside too. Make sure you check them regularly for water. Often times these plants can be large for the containers they are growing in and may need watering every day or two.


Lay out your plants on the ground, where you want to plant them. It is easy to move them around to get just the look you want. Be careful not to plant them too closely together since perennials will often spread over several years. But, if you want the garden to look fuller, space them slightly closer together. Again, the plant label should give you information on how much plants will spread when well established and growing for several years. Plants that produce runners, rhizomes or stolons will spread more rapidly than plants that tend to have a main central crown and only increase in size slowly over many years.

Lay the plants out where you want them, then dig the holes.

Transplanting Considerations

Remove any additional plant debris then use a sturdy garden trowel to dig holes for your new plants. Make the holes large enough to easily accommodate the size of the pot. If you make the hole a little larger, that will make it easier for your plant to establish new roots more quickly. Just don’t make the hole too deep. If you bury the crown of the plant too deeply it could rot or the plant might not grow or flower well. Usually you can use the plant as a guide so that that the top of the root ball is at the soil surface, just like it was in the container it was growing in. Firm the soil around each plant with your hands.

Make the hole large enough so that the plant fits in easily.

Firm the soil around the plant after planting.


Watering & Care

The last and very important step is to water each new plant thoroughly. I recommend using a hose with the water pressure turned down or a “breaker” or “rose” on the end of the hose or wand to reduce the force of the water and avoid washing out the soil. Water right at the base of each plant so that you help to get the soil filled in around the roots. If you just stand back and water a bunch of plants at once, it will not be as effective. You will also need to continue to water these plants more frequently than established plants because their root system will still take time to extend out into the surrounding soil.

Water each plant thoroughly after planting.

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