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Reviving an old perennial bed

Posted by monben z4/5 CO (My Page) on
Sat, Oct 19, 13 at 14:48

We just bought a new home with an old perennial bed near the home's entry. The space is triangular, about 60x30x30, and has been neglected to the point where the only plants that have remained are those that love the exsisting conditions (obviously). These all seem to be clay-loving plants: pale pink tall phlox that has naturalized, healthy looking candytuft, one large peony that looks malnourished and droopy, and two large rose bushes. One is white and sprawling, probably 8+ feet in diameter, growing in partial sun, and a peach variety about 2/3 the size of the other, growing in full sun. The roses look healthy and have bloomed constantly through the growing season, and continue to do so, in mid-October. There are a few geranium plants-not flowering or thriving, and the rest of the bed is overtaken by an abundance of vinca major, of which I have already pulled out half it's volume in large clumps, digging up the 8" roots and all. There is a drip system in place which I have been working around. I want to leave the existing healthy plants around the perimeter and transplant my favorite plants from my old home garden. I am going to continue ridding the entire bed of vinca (as I hate the stuff for most applications), and fill in with a mugo pine, a taller variety of autumn joy sedum, russian sage, agastaches, penstemons, lots of lavender, wine cups, evening primrose, and ice plants. I can tell the bed was amended long ago down to around 6-8", but below that is a heavy, lighter clay. My idea is to leave the existing soil at ground level, but amend by tilling in quality compost, then get several cubic yards of garden grade soil to cover, mix it in a bit, then mound this new soil in places above the old bed, bury some boulders, extend the current drip system, and then plant the rest of the bed with my old plants. I am thinking that the peony, and geraniums need a better soil location, but the other existing plants appear very happy. Any suggestions for how to move a large herbaceous peony, and if my plan to mound better soil atop the existing amended and clay soil would yield a long-lasting perennial bed? The last thing I want to be doing is digging up half my plants in a year and trying to fix problems later. I love gardening and landscaping and would like to do the work myself. I could post photos.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Reviving an old perennial bed

if it were me .... i would amend the whole bed... or skip it ..

i would either .... now.. if there is time.. or in very early spring.. simply dig everything out that i wanted.. kill the rest...

and have a lot of good sandy loam trucked in.. and amend the whole bed ...

and then replant everything ...

you dig a peony out.. just like anything else ...

and you started by saying: the only plants that have remained are those that love the exsisting conditions (obviously).

==>>> and then you list a bunch of stuff.. that i wouldnt call such ...

and my only point in that regard.. is to try to avoid presuming things ...

there is absolutely no plant.. that can NOT live in clay ... its all about how YOU plant them in the clay .. and care for them ... things do not die because of clay alone ... e.g. in drought.. if clay is left to completely dry out.. things will die.. but they died for lack of proper watering by the gardener .. or the drought.. not the clay ...

in my z5 MI ... now or april.. when everything is in very slow motion if not dormant.. is the time.. to simply dig EVERYTHING up and move it ....

so all you are down to is how hard you want to make the soil conditioning ...

good luck with this.. and the new house ...


RE: Reviving an old perennial bed

It depends, of course, on what one is willing to end up with, but, other things being equal, renovating a perennial bed is much more difficult than planting a new one.

My own approach (in the interests of maximum plant diversity/ maximum colour) is to dig up different sections of large perennial beds, upgrade the soil and replant them, every 4 or 5 years.

Most of my gardening starts off with clay. I'd dig down a foot, break up the bottom of the hole and refill with broken up clay and organic material. I'd certainly feel the need to thoroughly mix the clay-organic fill.

I'm gradually adding more peonies to our own garden. Moving large clumps apparently requires an appropriate amount of division and also not planting the sections too deeply.

RE: Reviving an old perennial bed

The best choice of moving into a new(to you)garden, is to not do anything drastic until you know what you have to deal with. It is very tempting to tear it all out. Al

RE: Reviving an old perennial bed

Hi monben, congratulations on your new home! It sounds like you have some gardening experience and a plan. I think you are on the right track. You’ve already identified those you want to keep, and those you want to move and add. You’ve decided to amend the soil. I would guess that any major amending would create a problem with your drip water system and so maybe you are trying to amend in just the areas where you are adding new plants which wouldn’t disturb the soil level. I think if I had two roses that were doing well, I wouldn’t want to dig them out and move them either.

If you are wanting to add agastaches, penstemons, lavender and ice plants and depending on how much clay soil you have there, it is important to make sure you have the right conditions for those plants. I have loamy clay soil and I have always thought it drains well, and I also mounded the soil in the bed but when I added agastaches and penstemons etc, they did okay but do not really thrive and lots of them have petered out over time. They really do need well draining soil, especially over winter in zone 4/5. I’ve had trouble with agastaches and penstemons that didn’t come back in the spring and I’m in zone 6.

If you really want to not have to come back and make corrections, you might think about taking a soil test this fall. See if there are any amendments that are better off being added now. I would think it is too late in zone 4/5 to dig up and move existing plants. Even here in zone 6, I stopped moving plants awhile ago. I do plant potted plants even through November as long as I can dig in the soil.

If you want to improve your soil and give a little added protection over the winter, you could add a layer of chopped leaves and grass clippings on the surface of the bed and water them in and leave them until the spring. You will find an increase in earthworms for your trouble.

I would wait for spring to move the Peony and Geraniums. And just prepare the hole where it is going, and take as much soil with it as possible when you move it, water it in well and give it some shade for 3-7 days and it should work fine. I don’t grow Peonies, but if they are supposed to be in full sun, I’d make sure you give them that in the new location.

Sounds like a lot of fun, good luck!

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