The Perennial Garden In February
Believe it or not, some time during this month almost all perennials will be stirring, if not above ground then definitely below. Roots are moving and with the more adventurous perennials new leaves are easing upwards. In my garden the succulent red shoots of peonies are just poking through the soil. If you gently peel back the tops you might even see June’s flower buds forming. Others are making good headway too, including pulmonarias (Lungworts).
Pulmonaria ‘Barfield Regalia’ (not show, left is Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’) is one of the first to bloom for me. The flower stems emerge as early as January but they probably won’t open until March. Many pulmonarias are evergreen and it is this type of plant, with leaves that stay green throughout the winter, that still dominate the garden. One of my favorite plants, Bergenias (Elephant’s ears) produce low, spreading clumps of large paddle shaped leaves, which in many varieties turn a marvelous burnt red during winter. Epimediums (Bishop’s mitre) are another, less commonly grown evergreen, which have small, leathery heart shaped leaves that form dainty mounds such as Epimedium x rubrum on the right. They are useful for providing contrast to the thick, dark green leaves of those most essential of all winter and early spring flowering plants, the Hellebore. All these plants thrive in the shadier parts of the garden where in summer they will form handsome ground cover having been the stars of spring.
PERENNIALS JOBS TO DO
Gardening with perennials is not difficult, but there is one job that should be done and if you haven’t done it yet now is the time. Cutting back old leaves and flower stems might seem time consuming but its makes new growth look fresh and clean. It only has to be done once a year, and it does not have to be done all at the same time. Call me a wimp, but I only do it on warm, sunny days and when the mood stirs me! I take my secateurs or scissors, pull back the twiggy brown tops and hack away as near to the base of the plant as I can. It doesn’t matter if some of the old stems are still showing as these will quickly be engulfed by the new growth. In some cases it allows a plant with no greenery showing to still be seen. If you have difficulty bending down, or not enough time to finish the job, there is no reason why a strimmer should not be used. This method might seem rather aggressive, but almost all perennials come from areas where herbivores such as deer or goats might have grazed the plants to the ground.
Plant Bare Rooted Perennials Now
You might think February is a little early for putting anything into the ground. The weather could well be wet, frosty, snowy and the soil is still cold, but this is a great time to buy and plant bare rooted perennials. These are plants that have been lifted straight out the ground and divided. The resulting clumps are often larger than potted specimens that are sold for the same price, and therefore good value. Not only that, when they are planted the roots are in immediate contact with new soil, allowing them to establish quickly and give good results in the first year.
These days it can be difficult to find perennials sold as bare rooted plants. Potted ones mean that nurseries can sell them throughout the year, unlike bare rooted perennials (with the exception of irises) that can only be sold when the plant is dormant from late October to mid-March. One source that you might consider are nurseries that specialise in specific perennials such as peonies, daylilies or hostas. As these plants come in a vast number of varieties there are just too many to put into pots, so many of the varieties are sold bare rooted.