Planning a new perennial garden? Plant for the whole garden ecosystem

Welcome to winter. The days are short and cold, and if you enjoy plants like I do, hopefully, you have a few indoors to boost your mood. However, there is already light on the horizon. Spring will be here before you know it, and now is a wonderful time to plan out your new perennial gardens.

At the Red Oak Rain Garden in Urbana, the designers used a plant-centric, layered design approach during a 2019 garden renovation. Low-growing plants cover the ground, seasonal plants add a pop of color, and structural plants add height and form. Photo: Layne Knoche.

The days of planting individual plants and surrounding them in a traditional sea of mulch or rock are numbered. Instead, a design paradigm described in the book “Planting in a Post-Wild World” by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West is one that gardeners are flocking to. The innovative approach incorporates the concept of functional layers that form a complex yet organized landscape that reflects nature.

We need aesthetically beautiful gardens that also provide multiple ecosystem services such as water filtration and insect habitat. You cannot get that from most traditional landscapes. This design method works. We have used it successfully and beautifully at the Red Oak Rain Garden on the campus of University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and I have even used it in my own gardens.

Design in Layers

Be aware of layers when designing perennial gardens. Each layer has a selection of plant species that perform a specific function. When designing, it’s best to focus on these three layers: Groundcover, structural, and seasonal.

The Groundcover Layer

This layer typically consists of low-growing, densely planted grasses, sedges, ferns, and forbs that form a “green mulch” that serves to shade out weeds. Depending on the species chosen, these may be planted in groups of 10 or more and planted as little as 12 inches apart. As they fill in and mature, they protect from soil erosion, provide habitat for overwintering pollinators, and much more.

The Structural Layer

This layer consists of trees, larger shrubs, tall forbs, and grasses, or any other plant that has strong architectural forms. The plants in this layer form the “bones” of the garden that are visible year-round. Individual plants or small groupings – three or five, typically – are appropriate for this layer.

The Seasonal Layer

This layer features plant species that are visually dominant for a period. These are typically plants with showy blooms or textures. Larger groups and masses of plants in this layer can create stronger visual appeal.​

Design Tips

  1. Keep “right plant, right place” in mind. Know your site’s sun, moisture, and soil conditions, and choose species appropriate for your conditions.
  2. Plan for seasonality. Make sure to include some spring ephemerals, summer bloomers, fall color, and winter visual interest.
  3. Order early. Determine the species you want to use as early as possible, especially if you plan on ordering plants from an online nursery. The ship-to-home method has become increasingly popular over the past several years, so the earlier you place your order, the more likely you are to have luck with the species you want.

Designing perennial gardens is a fantastic way to spend a snowy gray day.

By Layne Knoche for

Arrange Plants In Your Garden – 3 Simple Ways

Arranging plants in your garden… It’s one of those things that many beginner gardeners really, really struggle with. But today I’m going to show you three simple ways that you can arrange plants in your landscape for that beautiful layered look that you want. Use these steps to create a more professional and organic looking garden at home. 

1- Arrange Plants in Drifts (Groups)

In this photo, the purple geraniums are planted in drifts. There is a massing of at least 3 geranium plants on the right side of the path. In addition, the groupings of geraniums are distributed all the way down the path in 7 separate drifts.

Drifts of plants create more impact than single plants. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

When you arrange plants in drifts it gives a bigger impact to your landscape. No more buying just one plant. You should buy several of the same type of plant so that you can make a grouping of them. This will give you a better overall look to your garden.

To view the complete article by Amy Fedele, click the source link below.

Source: Arrange Plants In Your Garden – 3 Simple Ways – Pretty Purple Door

Damping-Off Plant Disease

What is damping-off?  Damping-off is a common and fatal disease that affects all types of plant seedlings.  The disease is most prevalent when seeds are germinated in cool, wet soils.  Fortunately, seedlings are susceptible to damping-off for only a short period following emergence.  As plants age, their susceptibility to damping-off declines.

Lower stem collapse of Zinnia seedlings due to damping-off.
Lower stem collapse of Zinnia seedlings due to damping-off.

What does damping-off look like?  Seedlings killed by damping-off initially are healthy but shortly after emergence become infected at or just below the soil line.  The lower stems of the seedlings collapse, and the seedlings fall over onto the soil surface.  The seedlings subsequently die.

Where does damping-off come from?  Damping-off is caused by several soil-borne water molds and fungi, including (but not limited to) Pythium spp., Rhizoctonia solani and Fusarium spp.  These organisms readily survive and are moved in soil or on soil-contaminated items such as pots, tools and workbenches.

How do I save seedlings with damping-off?  Seedlings with damping-off will die and cannot be saved.  Proper prevention is the only way to avoid problems with this disease.

How do I avoid problems with damping-off in the future?  When planting seeds, make sure that work areas, tools and pots are pathogen-free.  Decontaminate tools and workbenches by treating them for at least 30 seconds with 10% bleach or (preferably due to its less corrosive properties) 70% alcohol (e.g., rubbing alcohol or certain spray disinfectants).  Decontaminate pots by washing them with soapy water to remove bits of old soil, soaking them for at least 20 minutes in 10% bleach, and then rinsing them thoroughly to remove bleach residues.  DO NOT reuse plastic pots if you have had problems with damping-off or root rots in the past, as they are difficult to decontaminate.

When planting, use a well-drained, pasteurized potting mixture.  DO NOT use garden soils as they often contain damping-off pathogens.  DO NOT plant seeds too deeply, and germinate seeds at high temperatures, so that seedlings rapidly grow out of the stage where they are susceptible to damping-off.  DO NOT overwater as damping-off organisms are more active in wet soils.  If the techniques described above do not work, then consider using fungicide-treated seed.  In particular, plants grown from captan-treated seeds tend to have fewer problems with damping-off.

Article by Brian Hudelson UW-Madison

Source: Damping-Off | Plant Disease Diagnostics Clinic (

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