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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

Spring Perennial Plant Care

"There are several spring activities for the perennial garden." Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, says that as the weather starts to cooperate you can start to clean up last year's plant debris. Sanitation is an important tool to fight disease and insect problems that overwinter in plant debris.

"Certain perennials such as butterflybush and some hybrid roses are tender in our area." They are growing at the northern-most part of their hardiness zone and may need more insulation in the winter. If you covered these plants last fall with mulch or compost, uncover them in the next month or so as temperatures warm.

Most perennials benefit from periodic division to limit their size and rejuvenate their growth. Certain perennials have specific times during the year where they respond best to dividing. "If unsure consult our Extension Gardening with Perennials website at For the majority of perennials, the time of year when you can do the least amount of irreparable damage is in the spring.

Mulch is an important part of gardening. Mulch helps reduce weeds, retain soil moisture and avoids temperature fluctuations in the soil around your plants. A 2-3 inch layer of organic material is recommended. Place this around the base of the plants, but don't smother the center. If weather predictions of a droughty summer are accurate, mulch will be important to help retain soil moisture around your plants.

If you fertilize your perennial bed, spring is the recommended time for that activity. "Everyone seems to have his or her own recipe, which is fine." Ferree says that overall there is no right or wrong when it comes to fertilizer. "The most important factor is the fertilizer ratio." A balanced fertilizer offers nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in equal amounts and will be sold as 10:10:10. The actual number may be different, just as long as they are all the same. The Perennial Plant Association recommends a slow release, balanced fertilizer be applied at the rate of 1 ½ to 2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden space, in spring only.

Perennial gardens offer visual interest throughout the growing season. For more information on landscaping with perennials and much more, attend Gardeners' Big Day on April 6th at Dickson Mounds Museum near Lewistown. Topics include the drought of 2012, container gardens, roses, landscaping tips, and more. Rhonda Ferree will highlight new plants to try in your garden. The cost for the day, including lunch, is just $25 if you register before March 25th. Online registration is available at or call 309-543-3308309-543-3308.

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