Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Plant perennials now for a bright spring next year

Posted: Sunday, June 12, 2011 12:00 am

Perennials are a hard thing to sell. They require faith and patience! I don't know about you, but I can run short on those two things every now and then. If you put a 'catmint' perennial plant next to an annual geranium (must be planted annually) and the beautiful color of the annual will be picked every time. You see, when you purchase a perennial (a plant that keeps coming back year after year) it won't look like much, and it may even look like less after you plant it -- for the first year. But, once it takes hold and starts a new cycle, it will grow and bloom like clockwork.

If you take the chance and plant some perennials now, you won't be disappointed. Next spring when you see a bed of fluffy purple phlox or yellow basket of gold, you'll feel spring's welcome like never before.

Another great thing about perennials is that many bloom at different times of the year so you can literally time the color scheme of your flower beds; begin with pinks and purples and end with the golden tones of Black Eyed Susans in the fall.

I have never been more grateful for perennials than this season. Between the weather and my schedule, I haven't done nearly as much as I want to in my gardens. In fact, I'm still trying to get my annuals in the ground, which are very important for consistent color. But without those dependable perennials, April and May would have been completely bare in my gardens. The weather didn't set them back --  they were just out there growing and making it look like I had actually done something.

Perennials are valued in the landscape for either their colorful blossoms or for their foliage that can add color and texture to the garden, such as Silver Mound or the ornamental grasses.

Perennials can be used in a number of ways in the landscape. They can be used in combination with shrubs and evergreens to provide color and variety. Low, spreading perennials are frequently used as ground covers and in place of mulches to give a greener, warmer feel to an area.

A perennial garden can also be created that will provide color throughout the growing season and cut flowers for the home. While perennials cannot rival the season-long color of annuals, the beauty of the individual flowers of many perennials is unequalled and eagerly awaited each year.

Good soil preparation is the key to success with perennials, since they will occupy their spot in the garden for several years. Most perennials prefer a well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. With heavy soils that may drain poorly, you may consider raising the area to improve drainage. For heavy or light soils, incorporating garden compost, well-rotted manure or peat into the top 8 to 12 inches will increase the organic matter and aid in drainage and soil aeration.

Organic mulches, such as wood chips, compost, shredded bark, or leaves are beneficial in many ways. They help provide a cool, moist soil that perennials prefer, help to reduce weeds and help in overwintering by reducing frost penetration into the soil. For winter, 2 to 4 inch mulch of leaves, cover bark, hay or straw, or compost will provide protection for shallow rooted perennials like mums, Shasta daisies, delphinium, etc.

Many perennials benefit from being divided periodically. If permitted to go undivided, they become crowded, lose their vigor and become vulnerable to diseases. Iris, daylilies and lilies are some of the perennials that benefit from being divided about every three years.

Designing a perennial bed can be an enjoyable experience. It is usually best to start with a plan. Below is a simple plan for a perennial bed that has been designed with lower growing plants in the foreground and taller plants in the back, to provide a long season of bloom and variety of color. Listed are some possible varieties for use in this proposed perennial garden. Other varieties or colors could easily be substituted.

Sunny areas 

Peony - Pink, Daylily - Yellow, Siberian Iris - Dark Blue ,Rudbeckia Goldsturm , Chrysanthemum - Bronze, Lamb's Ear (Stachys) , Columbine - Mixed Colors , Coreopsis Moonbeam


Shaded areas

Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart, Astilbe Fanal (Red) , Hosta Frances William , Astilbe Bridal Veil (White), Hosta Royal Standard, Lily of the Valley, Ajuga Bronze Beauty, Bergenia Morning Red.

Remember the garden is just like life; too much of one thing isn't always a good choice. Create a beautiful landscape with perennial beds with some annual beds incorporated for their durable season long pop of color.

Jim Gainan is president of Gainan's Flowers and Garden Center in Billings, MT. Questions or comments?

For other perennial planting ideas, see more online at


Daylily - Yellow, red, orange, rose-pink, mahogany. Blooms late Spring to Fall.

Delphinium - Blue, white, violet, pink, purple. Blooms early Summer and early Fall.

Iris, Bearded - White, blue, red, pink, yellow, others. Blooms Spring.

Iris, Siberian - White, blue, purple. Blooms early Summer.

Liatris Rose - Purple, white, bluish purple, pink. Blooms late Summer.

Lilies - White, yellow, orange, pink, red. Blooms Summer.

Lupines - White, pink, blue, red, yellow. Blooms early Summer.

Salvia - Blue, purple, white. Blooms Spring to Fall.



Aster - Lavender, mauve, pink. Blooms Fall.

Astilbe - White, pink, red. Blooms early Summer.

Baby's Breath - White, pink. Blooms early Summer.

Bee Balm - Pink, red. Blooms Summer.

Bleeding Heart - Pink, ivory. Blooms Spring.

Chrysanthemum - Yellow, red, white, pink, bronze. Blooms Fall.

Columbine - White, yellow, pink, blue, red. Blooms late Spring.

Coreopsis - Yellow. Blooms Summer to Fall.

Dictamnus - White, rose-pink. Blooms Summer.

Ferns - Green foliage. Blooms all season.

Gaillardia - Yellow, red-orange. Blooms Summer to Fall.

Oriental Poppy - White, pink, orange, salmon, mahogany. Blooms Spring.

Peony - White, red, pink, rose, cream. Blooms Spring.

Phlox - Salmon, red, white, pink, red-orange, purple. Blooms Summer.

Sedum Autumn Joy - Pink. Blooms late Summer.

Shasta Daisy - White. Blooms Spring, Summer.



Bergenia - Pink, red. Blooms late Spring.

Snow-on-the-Mountain - White and green foliage. Blooms Summer.

Coral Bells - White, pink, red. Blooms late Spring to early Summer.

Fernleaf Bleeding Heart - Pink, white. Blooms Spring to Summer.

Hosta - White, blue, mauve. Blooms Summer to Fall.

Moss Phlox - White, pink, blue, rose-red. Blooms early Spring.

Silver Mound - Silver foliage. Blooms all season.

Stone Crop/Sedum - Yellow, pink, red. Blooms Summer.


Some tips to keep in mind when selecting perennials for your garden:

· Choose the colors and textures that appeal to you

· Know the space you have available and the full size of your plant

· Select plants that will provide color throughout the growing season

· Select plants that are appropriate for the amount of sunlight and shade that is available

· If planting several perennials in the same area, look for companion plants that have the same light and water requirements.