Give Perennial Gardens a Boost in Two Easy Steps

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By Melinda Myers

Topdressing a perennial garden with a layer of compost will improve the garden’s overall health. (Photo credit: Melinda Myers, LLC)

Give your perennials a boost this fall with a topdressing of organic matter. It’s a great way to revive tired gardens, improve a garden’s overall health, and keep vibrant perennials healthy and blooming at their best.

Research found topdressing your garden with compost every year or two provides most, if not all the nutrients most perennials need.  It feeds the soil, which in turn feeds your plants.

Pull the mulch back if needed. Keep it handy, so you can put it back in place once you finish amending the soil.

Topdressing is the first step in the process. Simply spread a one- to two-inch layer of compost like Hsu Leaf Compost (, a 100% USDA certified biobased product, over the soil surface. Be careful not to bury the crown of your plants.

You can leave the compost sitting on the soil surface or lightly mix it into the top inch with a hand cultivator.  The earthworms, ground beetles and other organisms will move it down into the soil and around the plant roots where it is needed.

The second step is especially helpful for those with heavy or compacted soils. Once the compost is in place, do a bit of vertical mulching.  Use an auger bit on your cordless drill.  Simply drill holes into the soil between plants. Then fill them with compost to further boost your efforts.

This will speed up the process a bit by getting the compost closer to the plant roots and soil organisms that will help incorporate it into the soil. You will also aerate the soil at the same time.  These openings in the soil allow air, water and fertilizer to penetrate the soil surface and travel to the root zone.

Return the mulch to the garden or add mulch if needed. Maintaining an inch or two of organic mulch not only conserves moisture and suppresses weeds; it also continues to improve the soil. As the organic mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

Investing some time to create and maintain healthy soil goes a long way in making your garden a beautiful part of the landscape.

Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Your Best Garden & Landscape in Six Lessons” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Hsu Growing Supply for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ web site is



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