Eagle County gardening: perennials | VailDaily.com

Eagle County gardening: perennials

Tom Glass
Vail, CO, Colorado
Tom Glass

EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO ” A couple of weeks ago I wrote of a nationwide poll of garden center customers revealing that 70 percent of them were confused by their choices and also lacked the immediate informational resources to end that confusion.

I would like to think that the pollsters focused on people that were milling about garden centers aimless and slack-jawed, one eyebrow cocked higher than the other, but I suspect not. I think employees were excluded from the poll.

Actually, I’ve encountered more than a few customers, in full possession of the appropriate Latin nomenclature, guessing at the finished height of something like, say, the latest product in sneezeweed breeding as it alone might possibly nail the right combination of height and color for their back border on Aug. 22. They weren’t shy. They let me know they were uninformed by me, the sign, and the tag was nowhere to be found.

Because I am privileged to have an audience, I’ve decided I might lift the fog for a couple of shoppers across America by answering some commonly asked questions right here in this column. What follows over the next few weeks I hope causes people to shop sahmelessly two-fisted this coming spring at garden centers all across the country.

This week’s subject covers what constitutes a perennial.

Probably the most common request I get is, “I want flowers that only have to be planted once and then I’m done with planting forever?”

That would be a perennial. An easy way to remember that is that perennials are plants that come back annually. The majorities of plants sold locally as perennials do come back year after year, and typically they are purchased for that singular attribute of filling a hole dug only once. This part of the plan usually works.

Another easy way to remember what place perennials fill in the garden is that perennially you have to weed and groom them. Weeding everyone understands: It is a drag, unless of course you enjoy stoop labor. (If you do, call me.)

All gardens need weeding, but perennial gardens are special. Some of the best perennials are indeed weeds and a good portion of the rest look like weeds ” until they flower. Every spring gardeners everywhere embark on a preemptory strike to eradicate weeds before they establish themselves as the garden. Weeding perennials, however, can be more than a handful as handfuls are pulled by gardeners lacking clues as to what perennials look like sans flowers. It seems that most perennials only bloom for maybe two to six weeks or so. If you visit your timeshare in July, you just might tug out that yellowed bleeding heart you missed blooming in June. Oops, let’s say we chalk that one up to Hardiness Zone 4 and the infinite mysteries of high altitude gardening.

Once you’ve finished weeding, you can begin grooming what remains. By grooming I mean every three to five years a whole slew of perennial varieties are best served by being dug up and divided into smaller bunches which, with proper foresight, enables a gardener to dig new holes and plant more perennials from division year after year. Or, perennially you can give them to your friends as an annual gift. They’ll remember you for it.

With those recommendations, you may ask yourself “Why would anyone plant a perennial?”

The answer is, obviously, because there is less planting work involved, as opposed to annuals, which, of course, you must plant perennially. But I’ll be covering the benefits of annuals next week.

Tom Glass writes a weekly garden column for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments or questions about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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