Perennial Power

Have you ever seen one of those billboards in a big city that says, “If you lived here you’d be home by now”?

The signs are meant to sell real estate in new subdivisions, but at this time of year I think there’s a gardening variation on that theme. It goes something like this: “If you’d planted perennials you’d be done by now.”

Well not quite done, but well on your way to a relatively work free world of colourful blooms to take you right through the summer and well into the fall.

We’re actually quite busy in our perennial beds right now. A bit of work at this time of year will save a lot further on.

If you have perennials in the ground now, this is a great time to check them out, see how they’re doing, de-thatch last year’s dead growth, loosen up the soil a bit and—most important—check for some of the Yukon’s indigenous perennials that may be trying to sneak in to your beds.

Weeding now can save a ton of work later. Yukon perennials, such as fireweed and wild rose, will seek out your carefully tended beds like heat-seeking missiles.

Yukon gardeners have over a century of success with perennials such as columbine and delphinium PHOTOS: Brian Boyle

But they are just starting to show themselves and with the spring moisture still in the ground uprooting them now is about as easy as it is going to get.

Grass is another interloper trying to freeload on your perennials’ corner of the world. It should be just greening up now, and it is a great time to uproot any clumps that may be claim jumping on your perennial patch.

If you have used any mulch to protect your perennials it’s definitely time now to clear it away and give your budding greenery the best view of the light.

Over the years we’ve tried everything from plastic to paper mulches and have decided that snow REALLY is the best.

Other mulch has caused us problems. Paper created a home for the mice who ate our plants. Plastic created a home for mould which harmed our plants. Both required work to add in the fall and remove in the spring.

Snow is free. It shows up just when you need it. It removes itself in a timely fashion with little or no work on your part, and it protects your plants from the worst of the winter’scold.

The first snowfall of the year when city dwellers are busy shovelling snow off their sidewalks and driveways, we’ll be busy shovelling it onto our perennial beds, shrubs and bushes. Snow also gives your perennials that first and very important deep watering of the season.

If you have beds up against the house, particularly on a south-facing wall where the snow has been gone for some time now, it might be wise to check the soil moisture below the surface.

If it is dry several inches down it might be time to give those beds a good soaking.

On the other hand, if you have some beds on the north side or other shaded areas, it might give plants there a real jump start to cover them with a sheet of poly or Remay cloth.

If you use poly you’ll have to keep a close eye on soil moisture and temperature. It can get cooking hot under a sheet of poly on a bright sunny spring day.

For any gardeners out there who don’t have perennials in the ground, now is a great time to start them out.

However, that advice comes with a proviso. Most of the big box stores are bringing in plants from British Columbia’s lower mainland, and many of the growers there are timing their shipments so the plants are in bloom to catch the customer’s eye.

Unfortunately, May is simply too early to leave blooms to the mercy of the Yukon weather.

Many growers and even many friendly Yukon gardeners know that dividing up healthy perennial root stock is a great way to propagate at this time of year.

If you know and envy someone with a beautiful perennial bed, now might be a great time to offer to help weed, de-thatch, divide and replant a few roots, in exchange for some rootstock to take home.

Sort of a sourdough approach to perennial gardening.

If you are wondering what to plant, Yukon gardeners have over a century of success with delphiniums,trolius, and columbines. Often overlooked additions to perennial beds are horse radish, and rhubarb.

There are some wonderful sedums and varieties of creeping sage that make great ground cover accents as well.

Happy gardening. And remember, if you’d planted perennials you’d be (almost) done by now.

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