Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Judy Walker
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Asking the perennial question


Garden shopping this year raised the perennial question: do I go for the all- summer blooming annuals? Or invest a little more up front (and on the backside) in perennials that will become part of the garden for years to come?

Unlike annuals, which live and die in one year, perennials live for more than two years, dying back in the fall and poking out of the ground again the following spring. Annuals typically bloom all summer, not so for perennials. Here is an enlightening description of the flowering differences between annuals and perennials:

“All perennials will flower for a portion of the growing season and then store food to assure growth the following year. In some plants, such as lilies or tulips, this storage of food takes place in bulbs; in others, such as hosta or daylilies, they develop large roots. Without this type of food storage, perennials would not be able to continue [to] grow each year. Annuals differ by putting all their energy into flowers and store no food for the following year," from

I love to add color, especially mixing annuals with the mostly green garden vegetables in raised beds. On the other hand … there is something very endearing about those plants that endure our harsh winters and faithfully return, year after year. So, I opted for some of each.

Unlike the one-and-done annuals, perennials do take some ongoing maintenance. And it is on this backside that wisdom of experienced gardeners is especially helpful.

Last month, local master gardener Chris Carlson shared her extensive knowledge of perennial flowers with other avid gardeners at the Carlton Extension Office. A life-long teacher and learner, Chris has been a master gardener for 15 years. “It started when we bought our first house with a neglected yard. I love being outside and creating gardens.” If you are new to perennials and looking for some easy to grow options, Chris suggests hostas, daylilies and coneflowers. If you have had perennials for sometime, you are likely in maintenance mode, and Chris has some great tips for ongoing management:

• Dividing helps rejuvenate perennials and keeps them from dying out in the center. Division in early spring is best, since the weather is cool and there's usually adequate moisture in the soil.

• Deadheading (the process of removing spent blooms) promotes new growth and prevents self-seeding (as much as we love our perennials, you can have too much of a good thing).

• Cutting back perennials before July can control their height and stagger/prolong bloom time. Some plants that respond well to cutting back are heliopsis, phlox, yarrow, Joe Pye weed, and bee balm.

• Thinning is the process of removing stems from the plant to reduce disease and mildew.  Cut one in three stems completely to the ground in the spring. Plants that benefit from this are asters, delphiniums, monarda, and phlox.  

As for the perennials at the top of Chris’ list? “So hard to pick favorites! I'll go with peonies because of their fragrance and they remind me of my grandma, and my new favorite perennial hibiscus because of their huge showy blossoms.”  

Presentations such as the one Chris gave on the 21st are examples of the many ways master gardeners give back to our community. In addition to continuing education requirements, master gardeners commit to volunteering their time helping and teaching others as part of the ongoing certification requirements. For more information on perennial flowers, email Chris at, or call the Carlton County Extension Office at (218) 384-3511.


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