How to Plant a Perennial Garden, From Choosing a Location to Ensuring Your Blooms Return Next Year

Create a living work of art with a bed of perennials, which bring color, texture, and pollinators to your yard year after year.

summer garden flower border with Echinacea purpurea, Rudbeckia yellow coneflowers
Photo: Getty / Jacky Parker Photography

Perennials are truly the star of the garden—they come back every spring, attract essential pollinators, and typically require little maintenance. These herbaceous plants die in the fall and return once the weather warms, so you don't need to worry about replanting them every year. Although their stately blooms are short-lived, perennials look fabulous during their annual show, adding unbeatable interest to your landscape. Ready to start your own perennial garden? There are a few basics you need to know to ensure these plants not only flourish during their growing season, but keep blooming year after year.

Know Your USDA Gardening Zone

The best perennials to plant are those that thrive in your area's growing conditions. "Perennials are a very diverse group of plants," says Anne Verdoes, a bulb and garden expert with "Some plants thrive in cold conditions, but cannot stand any heat, and vice versa. There are also some 'all round' suitable perennials, which can be planted in almost every climate zone." Knowing your gardening zone will help you understand which plants grow well in your climate.

Choose a Location for Your Perennial Garden

Before choosing any plants, you need to know where you'll be putting your perennial garden and how much room you have within that space. "Remember that perennials will grow larger each year and need ample room," says Jim Putnam, founder of HortTube and Southern Living Plant Collection expert. Measure the area you've allotted for a garden, and ensure the plants you want to grow will fit there once they've reached maturity. You must also make sure the garden area suits your plant's light, water, and soil requirements.

When to Plant Perennials

Most perennials can and should be planted in the spring, as this allows ample time for root establishment. "A decent rule of thumb is to plant summer-blooming and fall-blooming perennials in spring, shortly after they've awakened and once the danger of freezing soil has passed," says says Adam Dooling, the curator of outdoor garden and herbaceous collections at the New York Botanical Garden.

You should plant spring-blooming and summer-blooming perennials in the fall, allowing enough time for the plants to establish themselves before winter. "Your optimal planting season can either be extended or reduced depending on your climate or conditions that year," says Dooling.

How to Plant Perennials

Now that you know the location of your garden, you can begin planting your perennials. Check the tag on each before getting started to ensure you're spacing them the right distance apart.

  1. Dig a hole about 1.5 times the size of the container.
  2. Remove the perennial from the pot and carefully tease a few of the roots free from the root ball.
  3. Place the plant in the hole so it's slightly above the surrounding soil instead of below.
  4. Fill the hole in with soil and tamp down firmly all the way around the plant.
  5. Water generously to help the plant get established.
perennial garden flowers ready for planting
Francesca Yorke/Getty Images

How to Care for Perennials

Like any type of plant, perennials require routine care in order to help them thrive in your garden. Make sure you maintain their light, soil, and water requirements to ensure prosperous blooms that return every spring.


Light requirements may change depending on plant variety, as there are perennials suited for sun or shade. Make sure you check the care tag before planting. "Plants labeled full sun require at least six hours of direct sunlight daily," says Putnam. "Part sun perennials prefer dappled sunlight or three to six hours of morning sun exposure."


You should test your soil before planting to make sure it's habitable for perennials. "Most plants prefer a soil pH of 6 to 7," says Putnam. "However, certain plantings like a more acidic pH range." A soil test will dictate what amendments you need to add to your soil to make it a healthy growing environment for your plants.

In addition to having an ideal pH, many perennials prefer well-drained soil amended with organic matter, such as bark mulch or compost. "As these materials break down, they will add nutrients to the soil," says Putnam.


Perennials will need regular watering after they're planted to help the roots establish, which is why it's best to choose a location close to your garden hose. "Once established, most perennials will require approximately an inch of water weekly," says Putnam. "You may need to run your sprinkler for an hour a week if there is no rain." If you want to limit water usage, choose native perennials, like coneflower and black-eyed susans, which require minimal supplemental watering.


Fertilize your perennials twice a year—once in the spring and again in late summer—to encourage growth and give plants strength before going into winter. "Ask for organic fertilizer at your garden center or hardware store," says Verdoes. "Organic fertilizer has several advantages compared with chemical fertilizers. They allow plants to grow more gradually and improve the soil."

Garden fertilizer, ornamental garden fertilizer, or border fertilizer are good options for perennials. No matter the type you choose, check the packaging for the correct dosage, as too much fertilizer can weaken your plants.


Mulching your perennials is crucial to creating a thriving garden. "It will help retain moisture, prevent weeds, and protect roots from temperature extremes in summer and winter," says Putnam. "Several types of mulch can be used, including wood chips, hardwood bark, compost, or leaves." Administer mulch around the base of your plants once in early spring and again in the fall.

How to Prune and Deadhead Perennials

Most perennials will need to be pruned and deadheaded in the spring. Deadheading may occur more frequently as you notice any spent or faded flowers. "This involves trimming away all their dead stems and removing any dead leaves," says Verdoes. "Hedging shears are a good tool to use." To prune your perennials, trim any unattractive foliage back to just above the ground—their new, healthy foliage will appear again all on its own.

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