November 01, 2007

A variety of evergreens, perennials and annuals add texture and color to Master Gardener Suzann Herricks' garden. Of note are the purple Mexican sage bush and red firebush perennials.
Gardening with perennials can be exciting and inspiring.

Before taking the Master Gardener course, my landscaping efforts were limited mostly to evergreens. Now it includes a variety of evergreens, perennials, biennials and annuals.

The perennials are my favorites, and I wait with anticipation for them to return each season. Filling the garden with perennials that offer just the right combination of texture and color has become one of the most pleasurable and satisfying aspects of gardening for me.

I have done this in my own garden landscape and also worked in designing the perennial garden at the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens.


Generally, a perennial is a plant that returns year after year from the same root. Thousands of plants fall under this classification, but it usually encompasses a group of garden plants grown for ornamentation or for their flowers.

Most are herbaceous, which means the stems are green and soft. The soft growth usually dies in the fall, but the roots are alive and well underground. In the spring, new growth appears.

Because Victoria often has mild winters, some annuals will occasionally behave like perennials.

Why are they preferred?

Perennials are a thrifty purchase, but not always an inexpensive one. Initially they cost more than annuals, but the long-term outlay shrinks exponentially as they return year after year without the need to replant or repurchase. They are a more permanent part of the garden than annuals that live and die in one growing season.

Unlike shrubs that can get too large to move, perennials can be easily moved. Endless combinations of texture and color can be accomplished with perennials. They can be divided and propagated, yielding more plants for you or your friends. And, once established, many thrive with little water or fertilizer.

We are fortunate to have local nurseries that keep a plentiful stock of perennials particularly suited for this area.

Structuring the garden

Consider a garden setting. The basic elements should include hardscape (walkways, arbors, etc.), evergreens, perennials and annuals.

Once you have the hardscape in place, use evergreens to establish the basic "bones" of the garden. Add perennials as fillers or as focal interest and then plant annuals for seasonal color. Plant in groups of three or five in an "S" shape or a triangular shape. Place the taller perennials at the back or in the middle of a bed. Combine plants that flower at different times for blooms throughout the season. This will take trial and error but that is part of the continuing creativity of gardening.

TLC still needed

One myth that should be dispelled is that perennials can be planted and then ignored.

They need feeding, cutting back, fertilizing and dividing from time to time. Pruning during the growing season encourages a second bloom and most will need to be cut back to a few inches in the fall.

It is a good idea to mark the spot so that you don't inadvertently dig them up or plant over the same site.

Perennials will require more watering the first year until the root system is established. Because the roots grow much deeper than annuals, soon you will not need to water except in very dry periods. Mulching is not necessary but it helps keep weeds down and retain moisture.

The old adage to "bloom where you are planted" was not meant for plants. Give plants the correct soil, moisture and light conditions and they will be like those houseguests who return each year because you treat them so well.

Choices for South Texas

There are hundreds of perennials to choose from, but I offer two lists for consideration - Texas Superstars and a few of my personal favorites.

Remember that those plants with the Texas Superstar distinction are those that have been field tested by Texas A&M University specialists and found to be top choices.

Texas Superstars are qualified as such because of their heavy production, disease resistance, insect tolerance, low maintenance and maximum protection for the environment. These plants are not restricted to any particular season of the year.

The Texas Superstar perennials that will perform well for you include Texas gold columbine, Moy Grande hibiscus, Lord Baltimore hibiscus, John Fanick phlox, and blue princess verbena.

For more information on these and others go to
Or you can also get info at

My personal favorite perennials in my landscape are purple coneflower, rudebekia fulgida, bat-faced cuphea, firebush, Mexican bush sage, angelonia and blackfoot daisy.

To see a wide variety of plants, come out to educational gardens at the Victoria Regional Airport and see those that flourish. Each plant is labeled with the common and botanical name. You will certainly find new choices to add to your own garden.


November 01, 2007

1. Add perennial herbs to the garden. Try pineapple sage, Mexican mint marigold, rosemary and oregano.

2. Clean out warm season annuals that have succumbed to the cool weather, add compost and set out cool season bedding plants such as snapdragons, violas, pansies and petunias.

3. Plant perennials now to give them a head start.

4. Transplant and divide perennials that bloom in spring and summer such as daylilies, iris, daisies, and phlox.

5. Dig and store caladium bulbs in a cool, dry spot. Purchase tulip bulbs and chill in refrigerator six to eight weeks before planting.

6. Add compost to beds.

7. Seed wildflowers such as larkspur, cosmos and poppies.

8. Stockpile extra leaves for next summer. Think, "Free mulch."

9. This is the best time to plant container-grown shrubs, trees and woody ornamentals.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or, or comment on this column at