Pruning Shabby Looking Perennials & Adding Year Round Color

Question:

My perennials are looking shaggy with brown leaves, and leggy branches. Do I have to wait until spring to cut them back or can it be done now?  Also, what perennials can I plant for year-round color? I don't want to mess with annuals anymore because I'm tired of replanting them. 

Answer:

Perennials are groomed now, or you could wait.
  • I’d groom the spring blooming ones now, so they are ready to take off as the temperatures warm up in March. Most of the Sages, Evening Primrose, Shasta Daisy and Penstemon can be pruned off to the ground as they produce basal shoots while others are trimmed back for shaping.
  • You’re correct perennials don't need to be replanted like annuals.  However, they’re blooming cycle is seasonal and I’m not aware of any herbaceous perennial that blooms year round. Flowering ornamental plants such as Floral Carpet Roses or Euryops have a very long bloom season. Garden Mums, Cyclamen, and English Primroses are the primary fall perennials. Mums have the shortest flowering season while Cyclamen and English Primroses bloom continuously through May.
    • Next spring and or summer, you could add Iberis, Foxglove, Coreopsis, Penstemon, Verbena, Phlox, Bacopa, Million Bells, Rudbeckia, and Echinacea, the Coneflower just to mention a few. Also, don’t overlook the contribution from variegated foliage from landscape shrubs and grasses.
    • Your favorite garden center now has a selection of small perennial plants in packs.Planted now these varieties will bloom next year. If you wait to plant in the spring, these plants won't bloom until the following year. You avoid this with those plants growing in four-inch pots and larger sizes
  • Your first step might be to step back and evaluate the blooming pattern of the existing perennials to see which season needs to be enhanced. Also give some thought to the type or shape of flowers you prefer, daisy shape, columnar or just dainty type flowers. Do they need to be large, small or somewhere in between? There are lots of right answers but what is the right one for you?
  • The areas do not need to go colorless as you would mix in a few annuals.  I’m a believer in mixing annuals and perennials to bridge the color gap. You could add Primulas, Primroses, Calendulas, Pansies, and Violas for next color.
    • Planted now, they will continue blooming until next April/May. I’d plant them close to one another as they’ll grow very little between now and next February and add some nutrients with a Starter Fertilizer to prevent the leaves from turning yellow. You now have year-round color with a minimal amount of replanting. And finally, as the leaves drop, be sure to gather up all the debris that accumulates at the base and around the plants. The foreign debris packs down around the crowns with the winter rains. It can cause the plants to rot during the rainy season. It's repeated as needed during the fall and winter. I think it's only time a think a blower make sense.