Renovating a Perennial Bed

By Neil Moran

          Let’s face it, life sometimes gets in the way of the time we can spend in our flower gardens, and well, things can get a little out of hand. Perennials get very large and need to be divided, some get downright invasive and, of course, the weeds, weeds, weeds!

Over the last few years I’ve been involved in some landscaping jobs where it was necessary to revamp some of these overgrown beds. The homeowner didn’t want to get rid of the plants, just get the bed back to its former splendor. When I first worked on one of these neglected beds there was a lot of cussing and a sore back. However, after doing a couple, I worked out a system that made this job a little easier.

Actually, I learned a few things a while back from cleaning out a messy garage. Revamping a perennial bed that has drifted into disarray kind of reminds me of that chore: cleaning up stuff that has been accumulating.

Now I apply this method to renovate perennial beds, including the one in my own front yard, which makes this task a little less arduous.

The first thing to do when cleaning out a garage is to remove everything that doesn’t belong there. This will get some things out of the way so you can start to move around. So with this in mind, here’s how to get started on the perennial bed.

  1. Remove the most obvious weeds — that is, the ones that are getting taller than the perennials.
  2. Remove the plants you no longer want in your bed. If you plan on discarding the plants, simply dig up the whole plant and toss it into the pile with the weeds and other brush that can be composted later. If you intend to move the plants to another location, cut them down to within about six inches from the crown and keep the roots moist until you can move them to their new location.
  3. Cut down all of the plants that are no longer flowering, if performing this task in the late Summer or Fall.
  4. Do a more thorough weeding now that the plants you don’t want have been removed.
  5.  Rearrange the furniture. Now is the time to arrange the plants how you want them, taking into consideration size, color, texture, etc. Be sure to “water in” the plants you move by sticking the hose right in the hole you’ve dug and filling it with water.
  6. After you’ve rearranged your plants, use a spray bottle to carefully spray a herbicide or horticultural vinegar between the plants to further eliminate weeds.
  7. Lay down newspaper or cardboard between the plants. When I do this in the  Fall, I get free mulch from the city compost facility. I lay it down nice and thick and then in the Spring, I’ll top it off with decorative mulch. This will provide excellent weed protection for the coming season. Mulch each year to maintain good weed control.
  8. Put the finishing touches on your “garage cleaning” by doing a little dead-heading or shaping of the perennials or shrubs. Allow adequate room between the plants so that they don’t crowd out each other.
  9. Do some edging around the flower bed to keep grass from creeping into the garden. You can do this with a landscape shovel, a small tiller with an edging attachment or install a grass guard. It’s your preference.

10. Feed your plants with an organic fertilizer, such as Hollytone or a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote to keep them healthy.

Perhaps these tips will help you get your garage or perennial bed back in order. By the way, the best time to do this is in the Spring and Fall when the weather is cool and not so dry.

A source for information on quality perennials to help in your renovation project is at 

Neil, a horticulturist and garden writer, can be found on the his blog at

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