Group of perennials in garden

Perennials brighten up all beds, borders & containers
Image: Nurseryman’s Choice Perennials from Thompson & Morgan (©Customer – Susan Edwards)

Perennial plants are the trusty stalwarts of our beds, borders and containers. Thriving for many years before they need renewing, they’re a vital part of every well-designed planting scheme. To help you get the most from your perennials, we’ve searched the internet to bring together this comprehensive list of excellent blog posts and YouTube videos. Here are some top tips from expert gardeners who, when it comes to perennials, really know their stuff.

This article was reviewed by T&M’s horticultural team and updated on 14 February 2024.

Sow perennial seeds in early spring

Sowing perennial seeds in trays

Sow perennial seeds in early spring
Image: Shutterstock

Early spring is the best time to sow your perennial seeds, says John at Pyracantha. If you normally buy plug plants but would like to try your hand at growing from seed, this post is a must-read. The first step is to fill your seed trays with multi-purpose compost, firming it down, but not too heavily, before watering it in with a fine rose so that the water drains all the way through. Now you’re ready to sow. Worried about planting perennials into clay soil? Check out this post for 12 perennials which thrive in clay.

Some perennial seeds germinate more easily than others

Colourful hollyhock flowers

Hollyhocks happily self seed themselves around the garden
Image: Hollyhock ‘Good Golly Miss Holly’ – Seeds from Thompson & Morgan

Some perennial flowers are more suited to seed sowing than others, says garden expert Clare Foster. Her seed-started hollyhocks, Lychnis chalcedonica, foxgloves, dianthus and verbascum are all firm favourites in her garden and are “quick-to-germinate, swift-growing and first-year flowering perennials” to boot. These beauties either self seed or are split into wonderful new plants in Clare’s garden. See her gorgeous images over at @clarefostergardens for more ideas.

Hardy geraniums are a great perennial choice for beginners

Woman showing off geraniums

A geranium is a great beginners perennial plant with beautiful, scented foliage
Image: Rosy Hardy Gardening

New to growing perennial plants? Start with summer herbaceous perennials, advises plantswoman and YouTuber Rosy Hardy. She recommends geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ because it’s easy to grow and suits a range of light levels – spreading to cover the ground with sweet, pineapple scented foliage and delightful pink flowers. Visit her YouTube channel, Rosy Hardy Gardening, for more ‘bomb proof’ perennials for beginners.

Choose flowering perennials that feed pollinating insects

Purple nepata flowers in garden

Nepeta ‘Kit Kat’ is a magnet for insects in flower
Image: Wild Your Garden with Joel Ashton

When it comes to wildlife gardening, Joel Ashton knows a thing or two about which plants to attract beautiful native birds and bees. Joel believes that your garden doesn’t need to be ‘scruffy’ to provide important habitat for nature and his top five herbaceous perennials for wildlife are anything but. His nepeta and lavender both attract nectar-loving insects like butterflies, moths and bees who adore visiting the prolific flowers for a nectar boost. Subscribe to his channel, Wild Your Garden with Joel Ashton, for a helpful, wildlife-friendly resource.

Give perennials time to find their feet

Darkly coloured perennial border

Perennials take a while to get going – like this Acanthus mollis ‘Rue Ledan’ peaking in year three
Image: The Middlesized Garden

Expecting too much too soon from your perennials is a mistake, says Alexandra at The Middlesized Garden – particularly if you’re planting a new border from scratch. She says: “My acanthus mollis, for example, has taken three years to find its feet, but it looks as if it’s going to be lovely this year.” In the meantime, journalist turned gardener Alexandra explains, “fill your gaps with border annuals.”

Try perennial grasses for natural texture

Gardener sitting in perennial border

One of the key features of prairie borders is planting large drifts of the same plant
Image: Garden Ninja

Prairie borders are a beautiful, informal planting style that can work in a variety of garden sizes. They’re also relatively fuss-free and can bring a sense of calm to a garden,” says Lee aka, The Garden Ninja. A multi-award-winning garden designer, he says these borders are about drifts or blocks of plants which flow into one another. Inspired by the grasslands of North America, prairie borders feature lots of stunning perennial grasses. Head to Lee’s post for more info, plus the lowdown on when and how to prune herbaceous perennials.

Delay flowering with the ‘Chelsea chop’

Gardener talking about Chelsea chop

A good set of secateurs is all you need to carry out the Chelsea chop
Image: The Sunday Gardener

What is the ‘Chelsea chop’, and how do you go about it? In her video at The Sunday Gardener, Carol explains that the Chelsea chop refers to the practice of pruning perennials to encourage bushier growth and to delay flowering. It gets its name from the Chelsea Flower Festival which happens at around the same time. Watch Carol’s video to find out how to go about it – she says if you cut back the longer stems, you’ll encourage compact and bushy growth, as well as more plentiful flowers.

Avoid pruning flower buds during the Chelsea chop

Yellow rudbeckia with purple echinacea

Late-flowering perennials like Rudbeckia and Echinacea are suitable for the Chelsea chop
Image: MandyCanUDigIt

Also a proponent of the Chelsea Chop, Mandy at MandyCanUDigIt, says “the closer to flowering time you prune, the greater the delay in blooming.” She explains that you can cut some perennials back by as much as half, but that if you spot buds already formed on a stem, you should leave them as they are because “the likelihood is that if you cut them off, you’ll lose that year’s flowers.

Don’t Chelsea chop perennials you’ve chosen for height

Orange helenium flower

This Helenium would have looked even more spectacular if it had been cut back in late May
Image: @griselda.kerr

One plant which Instagrammer Griselda Kerr, author of The Apprehensive Gardener, says definitely benefits from the Chelsea chop is Helenium ‘Waltrut’. Although she forgot to do hers this year, she says cutting back the stems at the front by half or even two thirds will result in flowers which “stand up well and look so fresh and ‘collected’.” The only caveat, she says, is if you need the plant for its height. In that case, rather than chopping it in May, you should stake it in April.

Divide perennials for more of a good thing

Purple geranium rozanne flower

Hardy geraniums benefit from lifting and dividing every few years
Image: Geranium ‘Rozanne’ from Thompson & Morgan (©Photoshot)

Spring is a good time for dividing perennials, says gardening consultant Alison at Gardening by Design. This rejuvenates existing clumps which may have become a bit woody, and also provides extra plants for elsewhere in the garden or to share with friends. Alison explains that how you divide a plant depends on the root structure, but always begins with digging it up. Get yourself a bucket, some fresh compost and make sure you read Alison’s post thoroughly.

Wait until autumn to divide perennial plants

Purple astrantia flower

Dividing astrantia after a few years of growth will help keep the plant happy
Image: Astrantia major Censation™ ‘Milano’ from Thompson & Morgan (©Visions BV, Netherlands)

Never hang onto plants you’re not keen on,” says Jack at Jack Wallington Garden Design. Join him as he divides his favourite Astrantia which, at four years old, was getting congested. He uses the new plants to replace another Astrantia which doesn’t pass muster. Jack prefers to do his dividing in the autumn, saying spring and summer are good times too but, for him, the dormant part of the year gives the roots the best chance.

Use a sharp spade to split mature root balls

Gardener dividing phlox plants

Divide your favourite perennials when they reach maturity
Image: Mad About Gardening

If you’d like to watch a dividing demonstration, check out this quick YouTube tutorial from Paul. “This may look quite brutal,” he warns as he firmly cuts the root ball of his perennial border phlox using a sharp spade. Be firm and aim for the centre of the roots to make two new healthy plants, he says. Paul is one half of the gardening wisdom behind the channel Mad About Gardening. Alongside his husband Andrew, Paul creates a channel packed with garden wisdom, handy gardening skills and friendly advice.

Include tasty edible perennials in your garden too

Closeup of purple artichoke

Globe artichokes are beautiful, delicious and return year after year
Image: Globe Artichoke ‘Purple Globe’ from Thompson & Morgan

If you like to grow your own, this is the post for you. Tanya at Lovely Greens provides an exhaustive list of edible perennial vegetables, with lots of detail on how to grow them too. You’ll love some of the more unusual recommendations which feature among the 70 plants on the list. For an alternative to spinach and chard, try sea beet – the wild ancestor of all our beets. Tanya likes to “live simply, grow your own [and] make natural things.” Her blog will help you to do the same.

Grow perennial herbs close to the kitchen

Closeup of sage leaves

An attractive plant in your perennial border, soft blue green sage leaves are also rich in flavour
Image: Sage seeds from Thompson & Morgan

Nothing beats the aroma and flavour of fresh herbs, so why not grow these perennial plants in borders or containers outside your kitchen door? Perfect for culinary use and also delightful to look at – the bees will thank you too. If you’d like a rundown of our top ten hardy perennial herbs to plant once and harvest for years, this article from Thompson & Morgan’ blog has just the information you need. Try mint, sage and oregano, and that’s just for starters.

Don’t forget perennial sorrel and lovage

Hand holding sorrel herbs

Sorrel’s attractive leaves add a sharp, tangy flavour to mixed salads
Image: Sorrel ‘Blood Veined’ from Thompson & Morgan

Low maintenance, high flavour. How irresistible is that,” asks Helen Gazeley for UK gardening innovators, GrowVeg? She’s talking about a pair of overlooked but highly flavoured perennial herbs, sorrel and lovage. Helen says lovage is tangy and pungent, like celery but richer and stronger. “Sorrel – well, to me it tastes lemony, but some describe it more as an acid zing.” Both are apparently great for flavouring egg, fish and potato dishes. Fancy giving them a try? Helen gives you all the info you need.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our collection of some of the best gardener-generated tips. For more information and advice about growing perennials, our hub page is a useful resource. Now, all that remains is to grab your trowel, put on your wellies and get stuck in. 

Expert contributor list

  • John Moore, City and Guilds horticultural qualifications, former nurseryman.
  • Clare Foster, Gardening editor at House & Garden, gardening writer, author.
  • Rosy Hardy, award-winning gardener, author, plantswoman, cottage garden plants business, vice president of the Royal Horticultural Society.
  • Joel Ashton, Wildlife Garden designer and installer, ambassador for Butterfly Conservation and the British Dragonfly Society, author.
  • Alexandra Campbell, Garden writer, journalist, content creator.
  • Lee Burkhill, RHS Multi Award winning garden designer & TV presenter.
  • Carol Bartlett, Gardening blogger and content creator.
  • Mandy Watson, Freelance journalist, specialist gardening copywriter, Garden Media Guild and NUJ member.
  • Griselda Kerr, Gardening content creator and author of ‘The Apprehensive Gardener’.
  • Alison Marsden, founder of Gardening by Design, social and therapeutic horticulture practitioner & advisor.
  • Jack Wallington, RHS qualified landscape designer.
  • Andrew and Paul Lewis, Gardening content creators and YouTubers.
  • Tanya Anderson, award winning author, teacher, and YouTube content creator..
  • Helen Gazeley, freelance writer and editor, gardening blogger.

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