University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Publications : Book of the Month

The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, Planting and Pruning Techniques. Tracy DiSabato-Aust. Timber Press, 1998. 269pp, hardcover.

An excellent reference, a must for any serious perennial gardener, this is the first book to really address in detail the care and maintenance of perennials. Written by a perennial garden designer with 20 years experience, and an M.S. in perennial hardiness from O.S.U., the author also lectures across the country and writes on this and related topics. This book is not only based on her experiences with clients and her own large garden, but interviews with top growers and designers from all regions of the country.

Beginning as it should, with an eye at planting time towards future maintenance, the author covers the basics from bed preparation through division. In the second section, she treats pruning perennials in depth--deadheading, cutting back, types of pinching, and then pruning both for winter and for spring. The book is illustrated with excellent photos of these practices, many from the author. Most pruning books merely cover woody plants and ignore the herbaceous perennials. Pruning in this book is treated not just from the plant vigor and health perspective, but also from the aesthetic perspective. She mentions which plants can be cut back in early summer, and when, to either delay bloom or actually prolong bloom past the usual 3 weeks common to most perennials.

The last, and largest, section of the book is an encyclopedia from A-Z of perennials, covering most you may run across. For each is given accurate scientific name, common name, hardiness zone range, family, brief description, size, exposure and flowering months. Then a paragraph follows on pruning, and another on other maintenance practices such as need for division, special soil requirements, staking needs and more. I have found it very useful when wondering what to do with flopping plants the end of the season--should I cut back, and if so how much? Or after bloom for the early summer ones, if I cut back, will they rebloom?

Finally at the end, before the useful references, hardiness zone map and other items are 36 tables. These group the perennials in the book by maintenance and cultural specifics, such as perennials good for clay,. for low maintenance, deer resistant, those that require staking, those that need division every 1-3 or other numbers of years, and so on. These tables make shopping for perennials for certain needs, and not others, or for planning your perennial bed, easier and more likely to lead to success!

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