Plant a bed of mixed perennials for a colorful, easy-care garden.
When to Start: Early Autumn
At Its Best: Summer
Time to Complete: 2 days
With a tape measure, mark out the length and breadth of your border, making sure that it's not too narrow; a minimum width of 3 feet is best. Use broad sweeping curves or a geometric design; avoid wiggly shapes, which look messy. Use a garden hose to mark out curved borders or pegs and string for straight edges. Carefully following the outlines, cut through the grass using a half-moon sod cutter or a shovel.
Cut the sod into squares within your marked-out area. Turf is heavy, so to make the squares easier to remove, make them a little smaller than the width of a shovel blade. Use the shovel to slice through the grass roots under each square before lifting the turf. Remove the sod squares and store them upside–down and out of the way.
Top Tip: Recycling Turf
You can use turf removed from the border to patch up holes in lawns elsewhere in the garden, or pile it up and leave for about a year to rot down. Grass makes excellent compost, which you can apply as a mulch to your border in early spring, before the perennials start to shoot.
Clear the site of large stones, debris and weeds, removing the roots of perennial species, such as dandelion, dock and bindweed. Break up large clods of soil with a garden fork to give an even texture.
Whatever your soil type, it will benefit from an application of well-rotted organic matter, such as manure or garden compost. Either use the "single-digging" method, or dig in organic matter by spreading a 3-inch layer over the border and mixing it into the top 6 inches of soil. Rake the surface smooth.
Make sure you buy plants that suit your site and soil conditions and the style you wish to create. This free-draining, sunny site suits a prairie-style design. Set out your plants in their pots and step back to see how the arrangement looks.
Check that tall plants won't shade the smaller ones, and position the perennials in groups of three or more. Water them well before planting, either with a watering can or by plunging the pots in a bucket of water, waiting for the bubbles to disperse, and then removing the plants to drain.
For each perennial plant, dig a hole twice as wide as the pot and a little deeper. Place the pot into the hole to check that the plant will be at the same depth after planting as it is in its pot. Lay a garden stake across the hole to help judge the right depth.
Fork the bottom of the hole to break up any compacted soil. Then squeeze the sides of the pot and turn it upside down. With your fingers threaded through the stems and holding the soil, give the bottom of the pot a tap. The plant should slide out easily, but if not, tap the pot until it does.
Where roots have been restricted by the pot, you may see the roots growing around in a tight circle. This is known as "root-bound," and will limit the plant's development. Remedy the problem by gently teasing out the roots so that they will grow away from the ball into the surrounding soil.
Place the plant in the hole. Add some granular fertilizer to the excavated soil, and use this to fill in around the plant. Firm it in with your hands.
When you have planted the whole border, use a hose to water the plants thoroughly. A good soaking will settle the soil around the plants, helping them establish. If any roots are exposed by the watering, cover them with soil.
Apply a mulch to the whole border. Perennials take about a year to establish fully, and if planted in spring, they should have a healthy root system by fall. Until then, the plants will need to be watered regularly, even daily during periods of drought. After planting, feed them every year in spring with an all-purpose fertilizer and reapply a mulch.
Some plants perform best when planted slightly above the surrounding soil level. These include irises, whose rhizomes will rot if buried, and other plants sensitive to wet soils, including iris, verbascum, Sisyrinchium, sedum and other hardy succulents. Plant iris 1 inch above the surface, leaving iris rhizomes exposed; for other plants, raise the soil in a mound around the rootball, so that water drains off.
Moisture-loving plants often prefer to be planted more deeply in the soil, so that their roots aren't exposed to the drier conditions near the surface. Plant hostas with their roots 1 inch below the surface, and bury Solomon's seal (Polygonatum) at a depth of 4 inches.
Excerpted from How to Grow Practically Everything
© Dorling Kindersley Limited 2010