How to Prepare a New Perennial Garden


Adding a perennial garden to your home provides several benefits. Perennial beds add color, texture and height to a landscape. Living three or more years, perennials give a foundation to the garden. Perennials also have low maintenance needs once established. The idea of perennial-specific gardens began in 1890, according to the University of Illinois Extension. The curator of England's Royal Botanic Garden, George Nicholson, started the trend of perennial gardens. Though traditionally used as border beds, perennial gardens now take on many shapes and sizes. By providing the best growing conditions right from the start, you will enjoy your garden for years to come.

Step 1

Begin perennial bed preparation at least eight weeks before planting, preferably the prior fall or in early spring. Remove any existing plant material in the planned perennial bed. Use a shovel or trowel to get all of the roots. Remove any stones and debris.

Step 2

Spread compost, leaf mold or other organic matter to amend the bed. A 2-inch layer should suffice. Dig or till the material into the bed to 12 inches deep. Break up any large soil clumps. This ensures adequate nutrients and drainage, while providing room for roots to grow.

Step 3

Perform a soil drainage test. Dig a 10-inch deep hole in the bed and fill it with water. The water should drain in less than eight hours, according to the Purdue University Extension. For soil that doesn't drain properly, such as heavy clay, add 5 lbs. of gypsum per 100 square feet to promote better water drainage.

Step 4

Test the soil pH before planting. The authors of "Pictorial Guide to Perennials" recommend a neutral soil pH of around 5.5 to 7.0. Amend with 5-10-5 fertilizer at a rate of 3 lbs. per 100 square feet, if needed.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Organic material
  • Gypsum
  • Soil test kit
  • 5-10-5 fertilizer


  • "Pictorial Guide to Perennials"; M. Jane Coleman Helmer, Ph. D, Karlas S. Decker Hodge, B.S.; 1997
  • University of Illinois Extension: Introduction to Perennial Garden Design
  • Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service: Growing Perennial Flowers

Who Can Help

  • Purdue University Extension: Recommended Perennial Flowers
  • University of Minnesota: Designing and Preparing a Perennial Bed
Keywords: growing perennial gardens, preparing perennial beds, perennial garden preparation

About this Author

Kitten Arbuckle is a freelance writer living in Indiana. Arbuckle has been writing for websites such as Garden Guides since early 2009. Her education includes training in landscaping, certification in herbal medicine from a botanical sanctuary and a variety of college courses.