In the latter part of the growing season, many of the native perennials (forbs and grasses) are naturally taller in height. Extra rainfall causes native plant to grow even taller. Wind storms can also cause taller perennials and grases to fall over. Here area a few tips for dealing with taller native plants in your garden.
- For shorter groups of plants (5′ or less) leaning onto walkways, paths or other areas: Use 2-3′ foldable wire fencing along the edges of the pathways. See photo below.
Purchase this type of fencing at any home improvement store or garden center. You can often get this fencing on sale at the end of the season and you’ll be ready for next year. This type of fencing is barely noticeable since the plant foliage will help conceal.
- For taller groups of plants (5′ or more) leaning into walkways or paths: Place 4-6′ bamboo stakes or 4-6′ green metal fence stakes with natural jute twine fencing along the garden edge. See photo.
I set the poles/stakes at 4-5′ intervals along the path, and pushed them about 6-8″ into the ground. It’s best to insert them when the soil is moist, since clay soils are as hard as concrete when dry. Then I took natural jute twine and tied it securely about midway in height to the first pole in my path, and then pulled the string taut, and wrapped it 3 times around the next pole or stake, then pulled it taut, and continued until I reached the last pole, then tied it securely. If needed, you can tie another layer of string further down or higher up, depending on how much support you need. The twine is barely noticeable since most of the plant foliage will conceal it., plus jute is biodegradable.
- To stake individual plants, I also use a bamboo post and jute string. I’ve also purchased some really functional plant supports from Gardener’s Supply Company. I recently purchased 66″ tall stem ladder support to hold up my 10′ tall Compass plant stems knocked down by a recent wind storm.
- In late spring – early summer, try trimming or cutting back later blooming tall plants like:
Asters/ Symphyotrichum, Monarda, Boltonia, Echinacea, Eupatorium, Heliopsis, Physostegia, Rudbeckia, Solidago, Campanula, Veronicastrum, Vernonia =
Asters, Bee Balm, False Aster, Coneflower, Pyeweeds, False Sunflower, Obedient Plant, Black Eyed Susans, Goldenrods, American Bellflower, Culver’s Root and Ironweed
to about 1/3-1/2 in height once or twice before midsummer. Cutting back these plants will delay their flowering time and reduce their height. Leave some uncut, to stagger flowering time and height. This method doesn’t work for all perennials. If you have a plant not listed here, experiment, and cut a few down to see if this method works. TIP: Check for insects before cutting back their possible food source.
- Do not compost, fertilize, over mulch or water established native perennial plants. The extra moisture and rich soils will cause plants to lean. 1″ of finely shredded leaf mulch is all you need around perennials initially but please pull mulch away 1-2″ from plant stems and leaves. If you cannot keep up with weeding, add more plants or seeds so plants will fill in quicker and support each other. One last tip: Sometimes native perennials which prefer more sun, lean toward the sun if they are in too much shade.
- Be patient – Wait until the plants fill in to form a “living mulch” It took about 6 years for the plants in my prairie garden to fill in so that most of the plants support each other, except at the outside edges of the garden, where there is either a mulch or lawn path. If you start your garden densely from seed, the garden will probably fill in much sooner.
- Cut down a couple of your tall plants if they’re leaning or too tall. I have no qualms about cutting back a few of my taller plants leaning across a path, although I only do this as a last resort after I have used one of the methods above. I won’t trim plants that are not as prolific in my garden like Rattlesnake Master. Instead I stake them up if needed.
Please share your tips on how you handle tall perennials in the comments section below. Thank you.