Some herbaceous perennials have relatively short lifespans but are still well worth growing.
When a perennial starts to show signs of decline, you have various options. You could remove it, taking the opportunity to refresh your display with something different. You could reinvigorate the plant by lifting and dividing, as the decline could be the result of congestion. Or, you could take cuttings or sow new plants from collected seed (although many perennials will self seed, saving you the trouble).
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Browse our choice, below, of some of the best short-lived herbaceous perennials.
The flowering performance of lupins tends to peter off a few years after they’ve reached their peak, usually around six years from planting. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep them going by taking basal cuttings from them in spring. They also self-seed, so keep an eye out for young seedlings that can be lifted and potted up (this will keep them safe from snails and slugs while they get established).
Aquilegias might be short-lived, but you’ll never be short of plants to replace them with. They’re prolific self-seeders, though the seedlings won’t necessarily resemble the parent plants. Alternatively, you can lift and divide tired clumps to create new, reinvigorated plants.
Commonly known as bee balm or bergamot, monardas tend to be short-lived. The crown of plants often becomes woody, too, as they spread outwards from the centre. To prevent this, divide every few years to ensure they remain bushy and beautiful. Monardas perform best in moist but well drained soil, in a sunny or partially shaded spot.
Like monardas, heucheras should also be lifted and divided every three years or so, as the crown becomes woody, resulting in smaller foliage and fewer flowers.
Echinacea purpurea and its many cultivars don’t usually make it to the 10 year mark. While they do self-seed, it’s best to not rely on this, as the resulting young plants might not survive a UK winter. Sow the seed yourself indoors, early in the year to give them plenty of growing time. You could also try growing longer-lived echinaceas, such as Echinacea pallida and Echinacea angustifolia.
Achilleas are lovely perennials, producing broad, flattened flowerheads that serve as a landing pad for pollinating insects such as hoverflies. If yours look like they’re running out of steam, you could perk them up by lifting and dividing.
Known as shasta or ox-eye daisies, leucanthemums have cheerful flowers that look lovely spread through a meadow or border. However, they can quickly tire out and even entirely disappear, particularly if sitting in wet, winter soil. Divide clumps every three years or so.
Delphiniums aren’t especially long-lived, and if they’re growing in hot, dry conditions their life span can be further diminished. They enjoy a cool, moist spot in full sun and can be propagated easily from basal cuttings in spring.
Unlike species tulips, which have great staying power, tulip cultivars often fail to return in their second year. This is why most people treat them as annuals, planting new bulbs each year. Give them the best chance by planting the bulbs late, in November or December, in full sun with well-drained soil. Or try growing one of the many beautiful species tulips, such as Tulipa orphanidea or Tulipa sylvestris.
Though short-lived, lasting around three to five years, perennial gaillardias tend to be fast-growing and have a long flowering season. Give them a sunny spot and well-drained soil.
Extending the life-span
If a perennial you’ve bought is flowering at the time of planting, cutting off its flowers could help to boost its future potential. It might seem drastic, but doing this will allow more of the plant’s energy to be spent on developing a strong root system, as opposed to flowers.