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Gardening with Perennials

Gardening with Perennials

Gardeners adore perennials for their infinite variety, their hardiness, and the ease with which you can propagate more. They return each year so they are also cost efficient. With so many out there, how do you select what’s right for you?


Your first consideration will be the light conditions that vary throughout your property.

  • For heavy shade, Ferns and Hostas will flourish.
  • For sunny conditions (6 hours per day) the Russian Sage and Purple Coneflower will do beautifully.

The majority of perennials grow well in partial shade (especially in eastern exposures) when they are not in the hot afternoon heat.


Perennials come in every colour imaginable.

  • Perennial Salvia, Delphinium, and Veronica come in many tints and shades of blue.

    Cardinal Flower

    Cardinal Flower

  • The Cardinal Flower is the most intense scarlet-red.
  • Monkshood and several varieties of Aster represent the colour purple.
  • Butterfly Weed is synonymous with orange.
  • The Sarah Bernhardt Peony should be your choice if you are looking for light pink.
  • Choose the Rose Campion if your interest is radiant pink.
  • Moonbeam Coreopsis is lemon yellow.
  • Rudbeckia varies from yellow to gold.
  • White can be used in any grouping to cool the “sizzling” colours, to blend with softer tints, or by itself as a “pure white garden.”


Perennials fall into 3 distinct height categories (short, medium, and tall).

  • The short varieties are frequently used in rock gardens, as ground covers, and/or as edging plants. One of the most versatile, low-growing perennials for sun is Sedum.
  • Medium-sized perennials include such favourites as Peonies, Lupines, and Shasta Daisies.Lupines Ontario Perennial                                                                                 Lupines
  • Tall varieties like Hollyhocks, Mullein, Joe-Pye Weed, as well as various Ornamental Grasses are impressive and add bold structure to any garden. Some tall perennials like Delphiniums require staking so maintenance should be considered.

Time of Bloom

Unlike annuals that bloom all summer, perennials have a limited flowering time.

  • The Tree Peony blooms for only a few days and the Astilbe a few weeks.
  • The bloom could last several months, which is the case for the Pincushion Flower or Thread leaved Coreopsis.
  • The trick is to have your perennials bloom specifically when you want them to. If it’s late winter, try Hellebores. For the spring, include Columbines and Rock Cress. For mid-summer, Daylilies and Summer Phlox are a glorious burst of colour. Plan ahead for  fall with Bugbane, Japanese Anemones, and Chrysanthemums.
  • When your perennial isn’t flowering you may want to rely on attractive foliage colour like the green and white leaves of Brise d’Anjou Jacob’s Ladder, Norah Leigh Summer Phlox, and Variegated Obedient Plant.

Perennial (Herbaceous) Borders

The tradition of having luxurious perennial borders beside long gardens, brimming with flowers that are sequenced to bloom from spring through late fall is hardly practical on our smaller properties. We can, however, adapt the idea and grow perennials along a sidewall of the house or along a fence in the back garden. Instead of planting in groups of 3 of the same plant to create a large “drift” effect, just establish 1 plant. The challenge is to have something blooming from April to November. However, with a little forethought and some creative planning it’s entirely doable!

Mixed Borders

Perennials can easily be planted with shrubs, evergreens, smaller shrub roses, bulbs, and annuals. It’s important to keep proportion in mind so a plant isn’t lost against a large neighbour. In foundation plantings, where the overall form of the plant and its foliage are as significant as its flowers, you might consider:

  • Bergenia
  • Siberian Iris
  • Autumn Joy and Brilliant Sedum
  • Hostas
  • Lady’s Mantle
  • Perennial Cranesbill

and small to medium size Ornamental Grasses.

How to Grow Perennials

For the most part, perennials are fairly adaptable.

  • Perennials do best in well-drained soil that’s had 3 in 1 Planting Mix, peat moss, manure, or compost worked into the top 20 cm (8″) before planting.karl foerster grass decorative ontario Ornamental Grass
  • Add granular Garden-All 4-12-8 fertilizer, at the recommended rate, to the amended soil.
  • Perennials can be purchased as starter plants in small pots in the spring or in various sized pots ranging from 1, 2, 3 and 5 gallon sizes. When easing the plant out of its container, check to see if its root bound. If this is the case, gently loosen the moistened root ball with your fingers, place in the planting hole, and firm soil around it.
  • Dilute Transplanter 5-15-5 fertilizer as directed and soak the area. Keep your perennials well watered the first year to get them established.
  • Before winter sets in, cut all your perennials back close to the ground unless you wish to leave seed pods for winter interest or as a food supply for birds.
  • Do not prune back Ornamental Grasses, Lavender, and Russian Sage in fall. They are best trimmed back in early spring.
  • Water your perennials deeply before the ground freezes up in late autumn and mulch any plants that you feel may be borderline hardy or might be exposed to a lot of cold, winter wind.
  • Once established, feed your perennials in April or May with Garden-All 4-12-8 and again in July. Granular fertilizers slowly release nutrients over a 2 month period while water-soluble fertilizer needs to be applied more frequently.
  • Deadhead spent flowers regularly except when you’re seed collecting. Always keep the garden tidy so insects can’t hide under decaying leaves.

Dividing Perennials

Your perennials may need to be divided if they are flowering less, the flowers become smaller, or do not develop fully.

  • Divide the plant in the spring before it can fully leaf out.
  • With a sharp spade or 2 garden forks, split or quarter the clump. Leave one portion in the ground and transplant the other half (or the other three-quarters) to a new location.
  • Use Transplanter fertilizer to get your newly planted divisions off to a good start.

There are 2 perennials that should not be split in the spring. The Herbaceous Peony should be divided or moved in mid to late September while the Bearded Iris prefers to be divided in mid to late summer.

If you’ve never gardened with perennials or are just starting, have no worries. Perennials are easily moved when colours clash, the tall one is in front of the short one, or you have too many similar flower forms blooming side by side.