A (mostly) Native Perennial Plug Planting Twelve Months Later by Jim Anderson

ProPlugger Co - Thursday, July 13, 2017

Last year, I posted about a new perennial plug planting I did in June of 2016. In that post, Planting Plugs is a Cheap and Easy Way to Plant a Landscape, I showed how a 300 sq ft perennial bed could be prepared and planted using less work and money.

 Here was my design for the bed:

                                                               Perennial Plug Planting Design

Preparing the planting bed for perennial plugs

"NOTE: if you are the type that wants to dig out your grass and haul away the best 3 inches of your soil, then bring in and spread topsoil full of all kinds of weed seeds, skip ahead to the next section.

First, I killed the grass using an aquatic safe version of glyphosate, Aquaneat, as I live on a lake and know regular formulations of glyphosate are a no no for use near water.

Yes, it is a chemical I would prefer to not use, but with proper precautions it can be used safely. I feel using glyphosate once or twice in an area to prepare a bed and then never having to use it again is a viable option.

My much bigger concern is the insane amounts of this chemical that are applied to Roundup™ ready corn, soybeans and other crops. We won't be eating the grass we kill with glyphosate.

By the way, if you are eating most any food that is not GMO Free(Genetically Modified organism), you are eating food made with crops sprayed with glyphosate. Yuck!

There are other ways of killing grass, such as sheet composting and solarization, which I have also used. These can be just as effective, but take longer and more planning. Here is a good explanation of one method. There are also some organic sprays (mostly clove and citrus oil) that have promise (more on that in a future post).

Here is what it looked like after the grass was killed:

Turf killed
While I just pulled the weeds on the shoreline, I did use Aquaneat herbicide on the grass in the yard.

Planting the garden

I then planted it using plugs, a ProPlugger™ and forced child labor.

Perennial Plug Planting in process.
Perennial Plug Planting with ProPlugger in Process.

Perennial Plug Planting with some one gallons included
I included a few larger perennials that I could not get in plug size in the planting.

A week or so after it was planted a bit of composted was added as mulch and it looked like this:

Perennial Plug planting mulched with compost
Mulched with compost.

So what does this perennial plug planting look like one year later?

Since I did know that I would not have a lot blooming in this bed in the Spring, I did add a bunch of (non native) Purple Sensation Allium bulbs in the Fall of last year.

I am glad I did, because I had something happening this Spring before June. Here is what they looked like in May.

Purple Sensation Bulbs add Spring color to Perennial Plug planting
Adding Purple Sensation Allium bulbs to my perennial plug planting last Fall paid off this May.

Those little Blue Flag Iris plugs Catherine planted less than a year earlier in the shoreline below this bed looked great in bloom this Spring.

Here is what they looked like in June of last year:

Plugs of Blue Flag Iris
Blue Flag Iris plug ready to get planted INTO rip rap.

And here they are this May:

Blue Flag Iris blooming one year after being planted as plugs.
I really was not expecting many blooms the year after planting these, but I am happy to have them this early.

Here is a shot of my Sand or it’s other name, Lance-leaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) in bloom with Allium seed heads on June 7th.

Sand Coreopsis in flower
Sand Coreopsis was by far the most vigorous of the plants in the first year.

Coppertina Ninebark and Sand Coreopsis
The white blooms on the Coppertina Ninebark stand in contrast to it’s purple foliage. The Yellow flowers of the Sand Coreopsis contrast with it.

In late June the garden is in full swing.

The green Prairie Dropseed mounds are starting to fill in, the purple Liatris are beginning their bloom, the yellow Coreopsis are ending their first flush of blooms, and the Orange Butterfly weed are supplying the fireworks.

Butterfly Weed Plugs become blooms one year later
Butterfly weed, a few Lanceleaf Coreopsis, and Kobold Liatris

Prairie Dropseed and early Summer blooms of perennial plug planting
Prairie Dropseed starting to fill out in early Summer. By the end of Summer this warm season grass
 should be a nice larger mass of foliage as it grows most when it is hot out.

Lanceleaf Coreopsis and Butterfly Weed
Yellow Coreopsis and Orange Butterfly Weed in bloom beginning to be joined by the purple blooms of Liatris.

Purple coneflower joind blooms
Another view of the bed showing the Purple Coneflower joining the party.

Another view of the garden planted using mostly plugs
Another view of the bed showing the Purple Coneflower just starting to bloom, while the Joe Pye Weed, Little Lemon Goldenrod, and Asters are waiting to later this Summer/Fall to bloom.. The Blue Ice Amsonia in the front of them and the Baptisia australis finished blooming several weeks ago. Unfortunately I can not find any photos of those very nice blooms.

          In Late June the Swamp Milkweed are also starting to bloom.

Swamp Milkweed in bloom in Mid June are huge considering they were plug size one year earlier.
Swamp milkweed in bloom, waiting for Monarchs to arrive and lay eggs.

Tweaking the garden

Now that I have seen this garden for 12 months, I have some problems/ideas on how to improve my perennial plug planting going forward.

Butterfly Weed leaves big holes in the garden in Spring

While I did know that Butterfly weed was late waking up in the Spring, I forgot just how REALLY slow they are coming up. Since I planted almost a full flat (32) of these in my yard and a lot of those is this bed, there was some serious voids in the Spring.

So what do I do about it?

Every problem is a potential opportunity in the garden.

My solution is to plant some Spring ephemerals in those voids. These are plants that will come up early and then die to the ground in the Summer just as my Butterfly weed get growing.

There are lots of choices here, but I am partial to two for this spot. The first is Shootingstar (Dodecatheon meadia) which is a prairie ephemeral and fits in perfectly with this planting. I actually had planned to do this last year, but never got around to it.

shooting star plant photo
Photo by brewbooks licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike License

The second is Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), a favorite of mine. Virginia Bluebells would not normally be associated with the sun loving Butterfly weed, but may work very nicely in parts of the bed with a bit of the shade.

Virginia bluebells in flower
Virginia bluebell flowers range in color from bluish purple to soft pink). They are always pastels.

I am too impatient for seeds, so I will get some bare root Shooting Stars and Virginia Bluebells. Spring blooming perennials are best planted in the fall. This gives the roots time to establish, and allows the plants a strong start the following spring.

The resulting blooms will not only help fill out the bare spots for slow emerging Butterfly weed, but will also benefit early season pollinators, as well.

A shorter Goldenrod is not so short in May

I also found that my Little Lemon Goldenrod get full size real quick, unlike my Asters (another Fall bloomer) that stays small to later in the season. I may move them around to a spot a bit further back in the garden so their relatively tall Spring height will look more in place.

Another bed in a shadier site

Just for kicks, I will show the other bed (in more shade) that I started last year next to this one. See my Backyard Landscape design finished post for a bit more on this one.



Jim Anderson works in the Landscaping design/build industry in Southeastern WI. He's also been a horticulturist and aesthetic pruner at a top quality Japanese Garden, as well as a freelance garden consultant, Risk Management Consultant, Insurance Safety inspector and head banging Ice Cream Truck driver (yeah that was me cranking "And Justice for All") among other things. Click here to view the original article.