Planting Perennials

The first real autumn rain has finally come and the soil is moist and open. Time to prepare the ground for autumn and winter plantings!

Perennials are plants that come back year after year, keeping the same roots. In terms of edibles, it can be anything from asparagus or artichokes, which die back every autumn, to full size fruit trees, passing through herbs, fruit bushes and bulbs. Some annuals self-seed so easily that they could be mistaken for perennials, and they’re often included in self-sustaining garden designs such as food forests which can make things confusing.

Autumn through to spring is the best time to plant perennials, while they are mostly dormant (depending on the variety) and get less disturbed by the move. Most perennials are in pots when you buy them, with a tag letting you know the variety, the conditions it likes and how big it will be when mature. More than once, I’ve read it and discarded it, and I’ve often seen faded tags still on trees that have been in the ground for many years. But this information is crucial, so I now write it down carefully and have created my own little maintenance plan for each tree, bush and herb in my edible oasis.

Tempting as it is to buy plants and put them in straight away, they establish so much better when the ground is properly prepared. Start by digging a nice big hole – for a tree, a meter wide, for a fruit bush at least 50 cm across, always at least 60cm deep. Then fill it back in with half high-quality compost and half soil (I’ve also used bokashi with great results). It will make a little mound, but this will have time to settle with the rains before the actual planting.

Another potential pitfall is the availability of plants and the size of your garden… It’s hard to choose, and easy to get enthused when at a garden centre, walking away with more than one has space for! And I’ve learned the hard way that it really pays to choose very healthy specimens of pest and disease resistant varieties. Because who wants to spray and constantly survey all plants? Leaf curl on stone fruit, scab on apples… no fun at all!

So first of all, evaluate where in your garden a certain plant will thrive. Not just do OK, but actually thrive. Maybe you simply don’t have a good spot for a fig. Well, don’t waste the space, plant something that will do well! Read up on the perennials you wish to grow.

Secondly, think about the space they will take up when mature. Will they shade something else out? I mistakenly planted my lemonbalm too close to my thyme, and now it has totally smothered it. I’ll have to replant the thyme in another spot – not too hard for something that small, but what if I had done the same with a lemon tree?

Third, choose your supplier, variety and specific tree well. Local suppliers are often best, as their plant have grown in a climate similar to what they will encounter in the garden. Many also stock local varieties, but I now tend to opt for the most pest and disease resistant ones, which still have good flavour and nutrition, rather than cool looking heritage ones.

And last, prepare the soil well, as above. Different plants have different requirements: many of the mediterranean herbs need extra lime and drainage, some berries might need a lower pH. For each plant, prepare the soil according to what it needs and you’ll reap the benefits in huge harvests!

My own garden is pretty full as it is now, but at workerBe oasis, we’ll prepare the ground for some plants Sunday 15th at 1pm. After that, plantings will happen throughout winter on our Sunday working bees. Feel free to come along any Sunday at 1pm!

Remember the Food Forest Gathering 21st of May – would love to see you there!

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