University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
GARDENING TIPS FROM DESIGNERS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Here are a few easy tips on garden
maintenance from professionals that can make your own landscape more
Have upright plants that tend to
flop or get out of control? Then wrap
with monofilament fishing line to keep their shape.
Leave seedheads on your perennials,
unless of course their seeding such as with mallows will take over your
Leaving these seedheads is attractive in
fall and with early winter snows. Think
of them as dried flower arrangements. I
especially like the tall, whitish seedheads of eulalia (Miscanthus)
grasses in my garden backlit by the late afternoon sun. And leaving
seeds is good for the environment
by providing food for birds.
To keep some perennials such as
Russian sage and some spreading yarrow in shape and bounds, dig up
suckers coming up from around the bases of the plants. These can then
be moved elsewhere or given to
If you have plants such as
beardtongue (Penstemon) and tickseed that need good drainage, or if you
have heavy clay soil, consider amending it with sand and gravel. Add
these to garden soil (half soil, half
sand gravel mixture in equal parts) to make it fast draining, what you
see in English
books called "sharp" soil.
Best is to make a berm of this mixture to plant in, on top of the
existing poor soil.
If some taller perennials such as
Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula) become unattractive late in
the season, cut stems back nearly to the ground. This will encourage
new basal growth from
which the new plants appear in spring.
If in doubt whether to cut back, look for these new shoots at the base
If deer and rabbits browse your
plants, consider planting a border of sage and artemisias around the
ones. By first meeting up with aromatic plants (many other herbs work
such visitors may be discouraged from eating further into your garden.
If you have named varieties in your
garden, other than just a red this or white that, keep them labeled.
This way you know what you like and that
grows best, and aren't stumped when guests ask you about a particular
plant. Many professionals use oil-based
markers, which last much longer compared to regular markers. Others,
including myself, find a pencil holds
up better than most inks including the "permanent" ones.
Some shrubs or small trees such as
smoketrees (Cotinus) and willows (Salix) can be cut back almost
to the ground level, preferably in winter or early spring. This type
of pruning is termed
"coppicing" and results in a dense and lower habit of growth.
A tip I learned from a pro some
years ago, and see recommended by others, is the pot-in-pot method of
gardening. This involves sinking a pot
(generally plastic) in the ground of the same size as the plant you
your garden. You then slip the potted
plant into the in-ground pot. This
allows you to switch perennials such as daylilies out when finished
to replace with another in bloom. It
allows you also to have tender perennials in your garden during the
easily bring them in to a cool but non-freezing location to
overwinter. You can hide
the pot rims with soil or mulch. I even
use this method in large containers.
If you're like many in New England, you may have rocks in your
landscape. If so, consider creating a rock garden. One of the keys to
a realistic appearance is
to not just pile the rocks on the ground, but to bury them by one-third
their height. An easy way to do this,
especially if adding such a garden as a raised bed on top of poor soil,
place the rocks and then add soil around and among them making sure
If you have average to dry soil, but
want moisture-loving plants, just make a shallow depression in your
garden. This may be all that is needed
to hold some extra water for such plants as sedges (Carex) and
(Ligularia). If not, or the plants
need more water, consider lining the depression first with plastic
a few holes for minimal drainage). If
for bog plants, consider adding a good dose of peat moss to the shallow
Other tips from professionals
including many on garden design, as well as simple plant combinations,
can be found in the book from Storey
Publishing by Scott Calhoun, Designer Plant Combinations.
Return to Perry's Perennial