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How to Plant a Perennial Successfully

Updated on July 27, 2017
Juli Seyfried profile image

Juli has been gardening in her yard for 17 years. She has been growing houseplants for longer than that!

Asiatic Lily, a perennial, planted in full sun location.
Asiatic Lily, a perennial, planted in full sun location.

Tools You Will Need

  • Large shovel or spade
  • Small shovel or trowel
  • Sturdy gloves
  • Sturdy shoes
  • One bag of compost
  • Perennial plant (comes back every year)


Finding the Right Perennial

You want to plant a perennial, a plant that will come back year after year. So many wonderful perennials catch your eye. Which to choose or choose them all? There’s some work ahead to make sure your new plant grows well. While there is no guarantee, you can improve the chances that your plant will grow successfully. We’ll talk about how to plant it so it has the best start possible. First there are some things to consider before you buy.

Where is it going to live after you get it home?

Think about the spot where you want it to thrive: is it sunny all day or part of the day? Does it need a lot of water or not much? Is it windy or sheltered from the wind? When do you want to see flowers – spring, summer, summer into fall? Most of this information is on the plant tag that is usually found either in the pot or attached to it. It’s a good, quick read (find "Info on a Plant Tag" at end of this article). Some tags or even plant displays offer a code for you to scan to get more information about the plant. Asking a knowledgeable salesperson can also be helpful. A good match between the plant and its location will make you and your plant happy.

What tools will you need?

A big shovel called a spade is necessary for digging in the ground. A small shovel or trowel will help with the scooping. Sturdy gloves will protect your hands. Sturdy shoes likewise protect your feet. A bag of compost which you can buy at the store where you're purchasing your plant will improve the soil for the plant. Flex your hands and arms, you’re ready to plant!

Dig in!

The dirt surrounding the plant in its pot and the plant's roots is called a root ball. The plant has been growing in this root ball and all of it will need to go into the ground. You’ll want to thoroughly water the plant in its pot before you try to pull it out of the pot. This will give the plant some extra water to survive as well as make the pot easier to slide off the root ball. Set the plant, still in its pot, to the side.

Using the spade, dig a hole for your plant that is roughly twice the width of the root ball, usually a couple of inches on all sides. Dig it slightly deeper than the root ball. The soil you dig out can be put to the side until you’re ready to add it back into the hole. Also it's a good idea to chop up the soil with your shovel so that the soil is no larger than a walnut. Your plant has an easier time growing in small chunks of dirt.

Two plant stems going into the root ball.
Two plant stems going into the root ball.

Now look at your pot with the plant in it. Do you see where the plant’s stem goes into the root ball? That spot will need to match the ground once you put the plant in the hole and add dirt. Try it out. Put the plant (still in its pot) into the hole you just dug. Does it look like the plant stem in the root ball matches the ground around it? Once you add a little soil to the bottom it should.

Mix some compost that you bought with the soil from the hole. Use about 1/3 compost to 2/3 soil from your hole. You can mix it right there on the ground next to the hole or mix it in a bucket. Use your spade or the small shovel to mix. Finally, you’re ready to put the plant in the hole!

Put some of your soil mix into the bottom of the hole and pat it gently with your gloved hand to pack it down. Now try your plant, still in its pot, in the middle of the hole. Does the plant stem in the root ball match the ground? If not, add more soil mix and pat it again gently until you’ve got it matching the ground around the hole. Now it’s time to remove the plant from the container.

Planting it at last!

Hold the pot with one hand and tilt the pot. With the other hand you’re going to support the pot edge while holding the plant gently. Tap the bottom of the pot with first hand. Give it a good tap, maybe several taps! The plant with its root ball should slide out. Both of your hands will support that root ball. The prize is now in your hands!

Gently comb out the tangled roots.
Gently comb out the tangled roots.

Check the roots - the white or yellowish looking strings that criss cross through the dirt. Are they wound around or circling the root ball? If so, scrape over the circled roots with a sharp small shovel edge. Gently pull the roots apart – combing them out with gloved fingers. You’re trying to spread them out so they take up water and nutrients.

Place plant plus its root ball in the center of the hole. Make sure the top of root ball with stem matches the ground around it. Scoop mixed soil in and around all sides of the plant using your gloved hand or small shovel. Press dirt down gently as you go, to eliminate big holes in soil where water could collect and drown the plant. Finish scooping and pressing until soil matches the ground around it.

Water it!

Water your new planting thoroughly until water pools and runs off the top of soil. If water sinks in, keep watering until it pools. You need to water every day for the first week. During the rest of the growing season keep an eye on the sky. If it doesn’t rain or rains less than one inch, water at least one to two times per week throughout growing season. Top the soil around the plant with some mulch and you have it. This will help keep the moisture in. Enjoy your new plant!

Info on a Plant Tag

Plant tags have a lot of helpful information. Make sure the tag says "Perennial." Here are some things you'll find:

  • Water: how much water a plant will need to grow and stay healthy
  • Light: the amount of light it will need - for example, Part Shade or Full Shade or Full Sun
  • Cold Hardiness: how low the temperature can go before the plant dies, or
  • Zone: our country is divided into temperature zones - ask a salesperson what zone your area is in, although most plants sold are for your zone
  • Height or Average Size: how big the plant will grow
  • Spacing: how far from neighboring plants to grow a new plant
  • Blooms: when it will have flowers

Other information may include care, pruning, even planting steps.


© 2017 Juli Seyfried

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