By National Gardening Association Editors

Perennial gardens require less maintenance than lawns, but they do need regular care to look their best and stay healthy. Maintaining a perennial garden will keep it looking its best year after year. This complete guide covers everything you need to know about perennial garden maintenance through the seasons.

Follow these best practices for perennial garden care and you'll be rewarded with a healthy, thriving landscape all summer long.

Keys to Perennial Garden Maintenance:

Deadhead flowers. Using scissors or hand pruners, snip off flower stems just above a leaf or bud when they finish blooming to prevent them from forming seeds. Pick off damaged leaves.

Inspect for pests and problems. Look for leaves with holes or ragged edges; sticky, discolored or spotted leaves; chewed or abnormally growing flowers or buds; or damaged stems. If you discover a problem, take samples of the damaged plant to a garden center with experienced staff or contact cooperative extension service Master Gardeners in your area for identification and advice.

Water. Dig into the top 2 to 3 inches of soil with a trowel. If the soil is dry, water until the soil is moist to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation pipes apply water more efficiently than overhead sprinklers. Avoid wetting plant leaves late in the day to prevent the spread of some plant diseases. Your gardens generally need 1-2 inches of water per week. Use irrigation if there was no rain. 

Pull weeds. Remove weeds as you see them on your daily or weekly inspection. Use a hoe with a small, sharp blade to slice them off just under the soil surface, or pull them by hand.

Edge the beds. Keep the edges between your garden and lawn well defined and tidy with a half-moon edger or garden spade. Facing the garden, push the tool blade straight down into the edge of the turf about 3 to 4 inches. Pull the handle toward you to remove a wedge of soil. Repeat around the perimeter of the garden. Compost the turf scraps.

Fertilize and mulch. Early in the spring, fertilize with a granular, slow-release fertilizer formulated for perennial gardens. Follow package recommendations for the correct amount to apply. Replace or renew organic mulch, such as shredded bark or leaves to a 2-3 inch layer every year. 

Seasonal Cleanup:

Spring Perennial Garden Maintenance 

Spring is an important time to set your perennial garden up for success. Follow these tips:

  1. Cut back dead growth from last year.
  2. Pull early-emerging weeds.
  3. Divide and transplant overgrown plants.
  4. Replenish mulch layers.
  5. Apply slow-release fertilizer.
  6. Inspect for pests and treat if needed.

Summer Perennial Garden Care

Keep your perennials happy through the hot summer months:

  1. Pinch back leggy plants.
  2. Deadhead spent flowers continuously.
  3. Water your garden 1-2" per week.
  4. Weed as often as necessary
  5. Stake tall flowers like delphiniums, hollyhocks, garden phlox, and peonies
  6. Watch for diseases and pests.

Fall Perennial Garden Maintenance

As winter approaches, prepare your perennials:

  1. Plant any new perennials- fall is the best time for planting!
  2. Stop deadheading and let seeds form for collection or for feeding the wildlife in the winter.
  3. Prepare tender plants for winter- dig and store marginally hardy perennials for next year. 

Overwintering Perennials

Make sure your perennials survive winter:

  1. Add winter mulch over tender plants.
  2. Leave seed heads for bird food sources.
  3. Prune back large perennials as needed. 
  4. Cover delicate perennials with breathable fabric.

Follow this complete perennial garden maintenance schedule and you'll have a thriving, beautiful perennial landscape that returns year after year. 

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