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Over the Garden Fence

Perennial Beds Can Use Your Help

Down the Garden Path

Perennial beds are just now waking up from the winter and some of the first plants up are the spring bulbs and a few early bloomers like bleeding hearts if the rabbits leave them alone. Rabbits will feed on the tender tops of most perennial plants in our beds while more of what they like to eat begins to appear in the landscape. Once preferred choices show up, they will eat a lot less of the perennial bed foliage.

Along with flowers, gardeners can see those perennial weeds coming up too. This is the time to start your weed management program before the weeds get too far along and are harder to deal with. Dandelions are always a favorite in the flower beds along with the plantains. Chickweed can really become a problem too. Chickweed is actually a fall or winter annual that makes its presence known early in the season as it has been doing well all winter and is a prolific seeder.

Some early season strategies include mechanical removal as soon as you see them and repeat that practice until the weed runs out of food reserves. If you allow the weeds to regrow and leave them there for a couple of weeks before going after them again, they have already replaced some food reserves, so do your weeding often. For any kind of a weed seed pre-emergence herbicide to work, the beds will need to be weed free to start. One caution is to be sure the product you would like to use is safe for all your perennials. If you disturb the soil after application, weed seeds can again sprout and grow so expect that.

A bit later in the season, dried lawn clippings can be used for mulch as another way to manage the weeds. Composts from the compost bin or pile applied as mulch can also prevent weed seed growth. Later at the end of the growing season, this layer can be incorporated into the soil in the bed.

If there are some open areas in the bed, think about using annual flowers to introduce more color and keep the weeds away. Right now pansies would be a good choice. As the weather continues to warm consider petunias. Petunias have an almost limitless array of flower colors and growth habits to pick from. Petunias come in two flowering types, grandiflora and multiflora. Grandiflora has fewer but bigger blooms while multiflora has more blooms, while remaining smaller in size.

Spending some good gardening time in the flower beds now can reveal other perennial issues that need attention. If the spring bulbs come up with lots of foliage, yet the bloom show is less than expected, then dividing the spring bulbs can be the answer. This is very true for daffodils. This will be done later in the summer as the foliage yellows naturally. Daylilies have a similar problem of being overcrowded. Right now you can see the older clumps that look like a doughnut. All the new growth will be happening in the outer ring.

Go out and enjoy the spring weather and watch the remarkable transformation of your beds from the winter of browns to the greens of spring.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.