How to Plant Perennials

Perennials are a great way to provide flowers and color in the garden and by planting perennials with different seasons of bloom, you can have interest throughout the growing season. Below are tips for selecting and planting perennials in your Iowa garden.

Selecting Perennials  |  Planting Container-Grown Perennials  |  Planting Bare Root Perennials  |  More Information

Planting coral bells By maryviolet AdobeStock
Figure 1: Dig a hole at least twice as wide as the container.

Select the Best Perennial

Right Plant, Right Place

The first step to planting is selecting perennials well-suited for the planting location. Be sure the soil moisture, light levels and winter hardiness of the garden site match the growing requirements of the perennial. Additionally, check the mature height and width of the perennial and be sure there is enough space for the plant to reach full size.

All Seasons of Bloom

Remember, while flowers are pretty, they are not required for the purchase of your plants. Buying only plants that are in bloom often creates garden spaces with heavy spring bloom and little interest later in the season because many gardeners do most of their plant shopping in spring. Take special care to buy perennials with summer and fall blooms.

Select High-Quality Plants

Learn more about selecting high-quality plants in this article: Tips for Shopping and Selecting Quality Plants.

Planting coral bells pulling form container By maryviolet AdobeStock
Figure 2: Gently squeeze the sides of the container or run a knife around the inside perimeter of the pot to loosen it.

Planting Perennials


Planting container-grown perennials starts with digging a hole at least twice as wide as the container (Figure 1). The depth of the hole should equal the depth of the soil in the container. It is important not to plant perennials too deeply as it may cause poor growth or flowering. 

Pull the perennial out of the container by squeezing the sides of the pot and then gently pulling the root ball out (Figure 2). Carefully loosen the root ball and roots, especially those roots that are circling the root ball (Figure 3). 

Planting thyme By lena_zajchikova AdobeStock
Figure 3: Loosen circling roots before planting.

Set the perennial in the ground at the same level as in the container and backfill with the soil that came out of the hole. If the soil is of very low quality, such as those that are poorly drained or have a lot of clay, the planting hole should be dug three or four times the container’s width and the native soil can be amended with compost. In nearly all cases, amendments are unnecessary, and the soil dug out of the planting hole goes back into the hole.

Most perennials don’t need a starter fertilizer, but you can use one if you choose by following the label directions. 

Place 3 to 4 inches of mulch around the base of the perennial to help conserve soil moisture and prevent weed growth. 

The last step is to water the newly planted perennial. Watering after planting is important because it settles the soil and gets the roots in contact with the surrounding soil getting the plant off to a good start.

Bare Root 

Bare Root Peony by maryviolet AdobeStock
Figure 4: Planting a bare root peony.

Bare root perennials are an economical way to get perennials.  Many mail-order nurseries sell perennials bare root (Figure 4).

Learn more about planting bare root perennials in this article: How to Plant Bare Root Plants.

More Information

Photo credits: Figure 1: maryviolet/AdobeStock  |  Figure 2: maryviolet/AdobeStock  |  Figure 3: lena_zajchikova/AdobeStock  |  Figure 4: maryviolet/AdobeStock

Last reviewed:
May 2024