How do you wind down a perennial garden?

Albany, ME(Zone 4b)

After some years of waiting for my perennials to get "established," (sometimes takes years), I'm dealing with the problem of perennials that are too old. They get too big and need to be dug out and/or divided. I guess there's no such thing as a low maintenance perennial garden. I'm 69 and my hubby, who does the heavy digging, is almost 78. We're both in good health, but the day is coming when we won't be able to bend and dig and pull, etc., etc. Our children are too young to take over the maintenance of this garden, which is at our summer place, and enjoyed by all the family. They have jobs and young children. So I've been thinking about what to do with the garden so that it requires less and less maintenance without becoming an eyesore. Have any of you had thoughts about these things?

One thing I'm doing is getting rid of day lilies as they get to the point of needing division. That happens too fast and the plants are too big to deal with. I'll replace them with collections of columbine, I think. Or lilies.

Other ideas?


Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

Peonies or low growing bush type roses might be a thought , a little mulch and things like preen or miracle grow weed prevent . only a thought as I am not seeing where you are , and a decision of considerable thought to gardener , I imagine that is ..
If your going smaller well , as said , you have a lot of choices to read about.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

Hire a gardener! Reduce the size of the garden. Send me the daylilies. My wife keeps telling me to think about the future, think that I will be too old one day to keep the garden. I told her I have it so when I get too old, I can get let the grass grow back. We just went though this with my mother! She cut way back on the garden area, hired a man to mow and trim and I did the rest. When things got too much for me she would hire a man to work a day or two as needed. So it was a combination of several things.

Chevy Chase, MD(Zone 7a)

One approach is to plant a lot of small shrubs (that stay small) and long-lived perennials that don't need a lot of care. Hostas, for example, I love; and once they get to full size they just keep coming back, shading all the weeds,

If you have a local garden club, you can invite members to come dig up the perennials you want to get rid of, in exchange for filing the resulting holes with pine bark mulch which will improve your soil -- or in exchange for planting whatever you want to plant now.

It sounds as if you have a sunny garden, based on how fast your daylilies are multiplying, so maybe hostas aren't for you.

There are a number of books about perennials that don't need a lot of care. Of course, I can't remember the name of my favorite for this -- I'll try to post that. But I'd lean towards flowering shrubs....

Albany, ME(Zone 4b)

My favorite book about such things is "The Well Tended Perennial Garden" by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. But there's nothing like first hand experience!

Albany, ME(Zone 4b)

Juhur, peonies is a great idea. I'm going to mull it over. I know that our single peony has lasted almost 40 years. It's finally giving up. But my kids will be retired and can care for the garden well before 40 years have past.

Albany, ME(Zone 4b)

Seedfork, how do you find a gardener? My miniscule experience is that most handy folk don't know a weed from a flower. That's the reports I get from friends. I'm in rural Maine. Not a lot of professional gardeners. And my perennial garden isn't really "professional." How did you find yours?

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

You are so right, I did suggest hiring a gardener, but notice I did not say we hired a gardener! We hired a man to mow and trim and I did the gardening part(my mother would have agreed that my ability as a gardener might be in question). So if I was the best she could find, well...

Chevy Chase, MD(Zone 7a)

I know there may not be one where you live, but local to me is a community list serve and people are constantly reporting on excellent gardeners who need extra work, or people who need gardeners. There might be one local to you. You could ask the owners of any local garden centers or hardware stores if they know of any gardeners. Maybe kids home for the summer looking for summer jobs? Maybe someone with a 9-5 job looking for extra work? And just keep your ears open; knock on the doors of people with nice gardens, etc. Eventually it will work out -- just might take a while! And of course, be prepared to have to fire someone if you aren't happy with their work. I don't mean to be negative, but if you are going to hire someone you are entitled to set whatever standards seem reasonable to you, and it is easier to prepare for that before you've done the hiring.

Jackson, MO(Zone 6b)

I think this is an excellent topic. It's something we all eventually face. We are approaching this delimna ourselves. I hope we will get others to suggest plants/shrubs.

I have thought of small shrubs, but most shrubs get bigger than what I would call "small". I am thinking most are probably around 3 feet tall. I have thought about small shrub, easy care shrub roses--but then, they have thorns to always deal with when maintaining. I like roses, but I don't want roses everywhere.
I "think" maybe Andromeda Shrub or Daphne may stay small-not sure about the Growing zone however.
"Slow" growing shrubs might also work. Viburnum burkwoodii grows slowly-at least for me. I have also seen dwarf Boxwoods, other evergreen shrubs and there's a Dwarf Crepe Myrtle (zone 5).

I believe Asclepias (Butterfly Weed), Lavenders, Buddelia (Butterfly Bush) [there's dwarf ones out there], Dainthus chinensis, Heucheras, Astilbes, Nepetas, Oriental Poppies?? (don't know-maybe someone else can comment here), Coreopsis, Rhubarb?, Salvias, Sedums, and Speedwells might be possibilities.
I like the idea of Peonies. I have read they will last a 100 years. I cut my Peonies back at the beginning of spring after they have put on a couple of leaves. Does one "have" to cut them back? I am thinking yes.
Some Hostas can take more sun, right?
Ground covers even need weeding maintenance.
I put in several Phlox sublata this year--mainly for soil erosion. But they are fairly low maintainance.

I have several Gauras, and they seem to behave very well. I have had Gaura 'Whirling Butterfly' for at least 10 years. It has gotten bigger very slowly and not to the point one has to do anything with it. I really like it dancing in the wind, blooms a very long time, No maintanence, and is sterile so doesn't re-seed.

On the other hand, La, "if" you could find someone to divide your perennials, preen, and mulch (a little heavier than usual) now, you wouldn't have to divide again for a very long time. Surely, there's someone that would like some flowers in trade for some digging. Sadly though, I can think of on one around here. I can't even give my flowers away that are potted up and ready to go! Not many people around here are into much gardening.

Hope others will chime in.

Augusta, GA(Zone 8a)

Hi everybody, I wish I was closer to you, I always wanted to start a small garden business, for me to clear the place out and start from new. Here in the south we have a long planting period, sometime we even plant new flowers in July and they would bloom till November. We had here almost two weeks of rain so my problem is everything is so lush and busshy, I have to start thining out. I wish I can grow peonies, but it is to hot for them. When I lived in Pa. they where very nice and 3 feet tall. The last peicture is my floating island, a City property, I had some larkspur in the Spring. Etelka

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Stroudsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

What a great topic! Interesting to think of a garden that doesn't need division.

Of course peonies and hostas are perfect. There are enough varieties, colors, and sizes of hosta for an entire garden! I can think of two other plants that would work. The first is Baptisia. Lovely plant and very long lived. The second is my all-time favorite perennial, Amsonia Hubrechtii. Blooms blue in the spring, has soft, touch me foliage all summer, and turns brilliant gold in the fall. Mine are 15 years old (pictures below) and I've never done anything but cut them back in late winter and by 1/3 after flowering. That's it. I've never even given them supplemental water - ever. Fabulous plant.
I'm anxious to hear the ideas of others.

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Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I know a few have already commented on it, but aren't interesting topics like this what we search for and why we come to DG? So refreshing to find a topic like this that allows others to share their knowledge and emotions about their gardens.
Even though I am now retired, growing my garden has been my goal, but after only three years of gardening, I can see the need for cutting back and being much more selective with a broader view of the future in mind when it comes to choosing plants.
I am glad Hostas are a suggested plant for low maintenance, without even considering that, I have increased my Hosta plantings quite a bit this year. I actually planted them with the hope they would grow and multiply pretty fast. Now I see they could be selected with the opposite in mind.
I actually selected Daylilies for low maintenance, but with the yellow streak and rust now affecting them so badly I have to spray, and I am constantly pulling off the ugly leaves. I think my mind set was not quite advanced enough to consider division a "chore", I was still thinking of it as a "goal".

This message was edited Jul 31, 2013 8:38 AM

Clarksville, TN(Zone 7a)

I'm tossing my daylilies as I don't intend to spray for yellow streak every year. Nor do I care about dividing things. I will keep some irises though.

I luv Baptisias too. And my Amsonia hubrectii has gotten well established. I'm happy to see your pictures of it, rteets. Lovely. I'm so happy with my choice.

I luv all sorts of milkweeds as well. Great butterfly plants which is important to me. They do tend to want to take over sometimes but easy to just pull up without digging.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

My Coneflowers all have asters yellows ,, I am freaking out , 15 to destroy unless science comes through with a cure .
I guess Pincushion , Blanket flowers , and some others will have to do .

Now I know why Peonies and Roses and a few shrubs are so popular, so many others are to much chore to do .

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I am amazed that blanket flowers were included! I have the worst luck trying to get them just though one season. I don't even consider them a perennial. They spread and flop and just look awful in my garden after they get older. How do you keep them looking fresh and not past their prime? They do add color and look nice for a short period, a month at most for me.
Also I will have to educate myself more on roses and maybe rule out hybrid teas, I only have about two in my rose bed that have not lost most of their leaves(this is not a typical year with all the rain, but is there ever a "normal" year)? The double knockouts do pretty good, I just would love to have much larger more beautiful blooms with that wonderful rose scent.
Coneflowers have done very well for me with the exception of just a few that developed Aster Yellows. I just removed the diseased branch from one early in the season and left the rest of the plant, it never developed any more signs of the disease. I did have three more plants develop Aster Yellows. Two plants were still small so I pulled them, the other was large and I just trimmed that stem off, no more signs of Aster Yellows on it so far either. The good thing about Coneflowers (the old standard purple ones) is that they reseed, so even if I do have to pull some because of Aster Yellows I always have plenty more to take their place. I have had coneflowers blooming all through the winter and they are still blooming now.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

Blanket flower look good with Coreopsis and wild flower , wild type field looking gardens Like the ones many consider the weed pile , it's all flowers that doesn't look it all the time .
I cut the Coneflowers that have the yellows and am trying an osmotic anti microbial on the few blooms and stems remaining , Going okay so far , and there are two or three first year seedlings here and there , If it does not go the way I like , I have those to try again (and I will)

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

Thanks, you know I never even thought about that. Just goes to show how limited my view of gardening gets sometimes. Of course they would look great under those conditions.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

Seedfork That is more preference than limited , Your not as likely to be thinking about wild fields if you keep a clean garden , mulched , and pattern made , city or in town .
Mine look the field , blooming constantly next to the driveway , in town , only everyone keeps asking if they can mow them for me . Your opinion or non thought , about what your not doing , is well shared ..
You just plain old enjoy the garden the way you do , as we all do .. lol

Lake Stevens, WA(Zone 8a)

Hi LAS14- a couple of thoughts-
Plant little trees now so it is shady in 10 years, without requiring an arborist when you cannot take care of them yourself. If you plant saplings, you still have several years of sun gardening. Shade means slow weed growth, and slow growth of your chosen plants, so it is a long time before they need division. Shrubs are good too. Some people like roses but I find them too much of a pain, requiring sprays. Also the thorns mean I avoid weeding under them, as do paid helpers. However there are people trialing roses without spraying, such as the NY botanical Garden and in Texas-
I can't make more specific easy-care perennial or tree recommendations as I garden in such a different zone. For example here Rhodies do well, grow slowly and when they get too big they can be easily whacked off near the base by any helper with simple tools, then regrow and look nice in a year.
Let us know what you figure out!

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

I'm in the same spot as you, LAS, and just turned 72 the day you began this thread. My husband is 83 and only gave up vegetable gardening last year after the four heat waves and the crows attacking the tomatoes. I had the path lifted and relaid in that garden to make it a haven, protected from deer invasions, for a very few roses, some clematises, hydrangeas (all deer favorites).

We had over 2000 daylilies just a few years ago. Some DG people dug whatever they wanted, I sent many boxes off to other DG people, gave to friends and then ended up going to the dump with many and still have much more than I need but the ability to dig to send out is too much work and too many people don't realize it until they have to do it.

I like the idea of peonies, too. They can be left in place for 50 years so I guess I won't have to worry about ever dividing them! I'd also vote for lilies, maybe some Japanese irises only because I'm partial to them but they still will need division, sedums and heuchera if you don't have deer issues, and anything that is slow growing but investigate each choice thoroughly before you buy anything.

Hostas are good and with enough compost in the planting hole many can take sun. Some hostas will demand division or they can die out. I've had it happen with Love Pat.

Some of those Butterfly Bushes that are meant to be low have gotten to the gutters here so investigate thoroughly and don't believe what a nursery tells you.

I agree about asking at nurseries and hardware stores, home improvement stores, if anyone does part time work.

Listen to happy_macomb and feel free to supervise and dismiss anyone who doesn't follow orders or those who don't know a weed from a plant that's valuable. We just went through that in May when I told our guy to remove weeds in the asparagus garden. I just happened to go back there and spotted him with a spade as he went to remove the asparagus plants! We'll still hire him for chipping and compost but not for garden work.

Preen and 70 to 80 bags of mulch have saved me from insanity this year!

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Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

Pirl, your garden is so beautiful, wish I were closer, I can still did like a mole.

Albany, ME(Zone 4b)

Pirl, what a gorgeous garden. You certainly do have a bigger challenge than I do. I was lucky, I think, to focus a lot of attention on nurturing native, or compatible types in natural areas. My perennial garden is really small. It's the only place I'm worried about, as the rest of the place can come and go as it will. Here are my two locations in Garden Showcase. The first is my (tiny) perennial garden. And the second is stuff we've planted/encouraged in the natural landscape.

Stroudsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

Beautiful, no STUNNING would be the word, gardens pirl! The number and variety of lillies is amazing. A friend of mine asked me about 5 years ago if I would like some lilly bulbs. I said "sure" thinking she was going to give me a dozen. She came with a case of 400 bulbs! I planted about 200 and gave the rest away. When they are in bloom it is magical. Mine are all yellow though (which I love). Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much I love your garden.

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Chevy Chase, MD(Zone 7a)

Here is the book I was thinking of:

It evaluates low care garden plants. It is by DiSabato-Aust, whom LAS14 mentions above. It is short and quite helpful.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

In my experience butterfly bushes have a lot of deadwood in the spring and need trimming. A pro friend of mine recommends cutting them way back in the spring so they grow fuller than if left alone.

My garden was neglected during two separate long periods, the second, lasting 4 or 5 years, ending when I arrived. Most of the initial plantings were very old, especially the shrubs. Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Box, evergreens and a few decorative trees are still doing well, some at least 50 years old. DH had done quite a lot of perennial planting during the 80's and 90's, but then became less active. I arrived in 2007.

Pic 1, 2007: Daylilies hadn't been moved for at least 20 years by then, maybe more. They had become huge clumps, still flowering their heads off. 4 big clumps remain, along the top wall, still not touched by me. Peonies also thrive in the same area, without any of my efforts. Siberian Iris did well, filling a large section, spectacular when they bloomed.

Pic 2, 2007: Another section had been planted with tall grasses, which are still wonderful.

Pic 3, 2008: Hosta had naturalized all over the place, even in full sun. I've left many of the huge clumps in place. Wonderful weed smotherers!

Pic 4, 2012: Old Peonies flowering along the top wall.

Pic 5, 2013: Daylilies along the top wall are old clumps, alternating with the peonies. I'm continuing the theme down to the end, but haven't finished it yet. The central beds have been renovated and re-shaped.

Other naturalizers were Phlox, Monarda (in shade), Cimicifuga (open shade), Echinops Ritro, Aquilegias, Hardy Geraniums, yellow Monkshood, Baptisia, Lobelia Siphilitica, Digitalis Grandiflora, Siberian Iris, Ferns (almost too well!), to name only a few.

Many beds were invaded with various nasties, but the perennials survived. I'm hoping to develop the 'survival' theme, adding higher maintenance plants sparingly in areas that are easy to get to.

I hope this gives you some ideas, and some encouragement that what you want to do is possible!

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Chevy Chase, MD(Zone 7a)

Pfg, by yellow monkshood do you mean A. lycoctonum (aka A. lamarckii, A. vulparia)?

See .

This message was edited Jul 31, 2013 4:33 PM

Stroudsburg, PA(Zone 6a)


Wow, what a beautiful restoration of an established garden. Very lovely.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

This is it. I'm pretty sure it's A Vulparia, haven't looked it up lately, but must have done it when I labeled this pic.

Thanks, it's been a labor of love (for real :-) !).

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(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Thanks to Seedfork, LAS and rteets for the compliments. Most of the work is in spring and fall (into January some years) but the summer isn't bad thanks to Preen and mulch.

I totally agree with Pam (Pfg) about Butterfly Bushes. If I were LAS I'd select just one to grow so the early spring pruning (about mid-April for Maine) wouldn't be overwhelming. Pruning them down to a few inches is the recommended thing to do.

Pam - love your gardens, views, plants, etc. Such a lovely sight!

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Thank you Pirl, your beautiful gardens are always a wonderful source of inspiration.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Want to trade? LOL

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Rofll.... Greener grass, etc...

Chevy Chase, MD(Zone 7a)

LAS14, another approach to consider is to look at your current garden and consider the areas that require the least work annually right now. Assuming you like them, then replicate them elsewhere. For me, it would be hostas, and Slender Deutzia, and azaleas, and variegated Solomon's Seal, and so on. Nothing invasive or that reseeds too much or that is too aggressive, of course.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Caladiums are another great choice for months of color. I don't dig them to save them. During the season they may need a leaf removed due to rain or wind but they have to be the easiest and most colorful plants for beds, pots, hanging baskets or window boxes.

Happy's ideas about azaleas and hosta is excellent.

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Chevy Chase, MD(Zone 7a)

Pirl -- I love caladiums too, but they do have to be planted annually -- LAS14 might be seeking to avoid that.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

You're right and yet it's easier to plant caladiums than many other plants like azaleas though it would still afford them a little change of pace each year buying caladiums they haven't grown before.

All gardening involves some type of work so it's a matter of what they'd hire out and what they'd enjoy doing themselves. I don't like that half bent over posture in the garden so I don't do azalea pruning and hire it out every other year. My back would be in agony if I tried to do all the trimming so I tend to not buy plants that need it.

Albany, ME(Zone 4b)

Rteets, I had to smile when I read about your amsonia. Amsonia is one of the main reasons I started this topic. I have 3 in the back of a little poatch of wood phlox, Jacobs ladder and celandine. They've all been there going on 10 years, maybe more. The three lavender flowers bloomed nicely in succession. The amsonia at the back was not quite 2 feet tall, and the same diameter. Then this year, after everything had bloomed, it more than doubled in size. It completely covered the patch in front. We decided to move all three back to the edge of the woods. My husband got one done in the time he thought he'd get 3 done. The root ball was over two feet wide. Wow! I don't know if it was just age (we find that lots of things really explode at age 6 to 10 yrs) or the unusually wet summer. It had been planted in a fairly dry spot. I don't know the variety, so I don't know if it had finally reached its expected dimensions, or if it just freaked out!

Good luck to you with yours! :-)

Stroudsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

You MOVED an Amsonia?? Holy cow! When I give babies to people I tell them they better be sure they want them where they first put them, because moving them is near impossible. The roots on the tiny ones are enormous. I can only imagine what the roots on an established plant would look like. Your husband has my admiration and respect - to say the least. Did they do well being moved?

Albany, ME(Zone 4b)

We've only moved one of the 3 so far, and that was last week. Haven't even seen them yet as we're back in Boston for a week. Will report.

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