Best Time to Make Needed Changes in Your Flower Borders

Flower Border design is not a “do it once and be done” thing. It’s something you will continually work on until you no longer tend that flower border.

One of the basic principles of nature to consider in your design, is plenty of air circulation. You want lush borders, but you want space amongst the groupings of plants that allow the air to circulate. And as a bonus, allows you to work in and around the plants without compacting the soil.


Photo taken in mid May. I had to remove quite a bit from this back-side border in April because it had become too crowded.  Plant groupings now have space for air and space that will allow me to work them.

Seeing the Need

When you first put plants in, it’s not always possible to judge how much space they’re going to need when they’re mature. After they’re fully developed, you might see they need more space. Many times the design is not quite what you envisioned and adjustments need to be made.

Best Time to Make the Change (for various perennial plants)

One of the biggest deterrents to having borders and flower gardens look their best more quickly can be waiting for the supposedly-right-time to make changes.

I’ve found that usually the best time to make changes is when you see the need for the change. That can, believe it or not, be right during bloom time, or if you prefer, immediately after bloom. Or it can be in the spring when growth is yet incomplete.


This photo was taken May 14.  In April, I chopped and removed part of each of the 3 sedums in order to allow more room between them when they mature.  They rounded out again like nothing ever happened. Now, each has room for air circulation and space to look its best.

A Good Strategy to Give Yourself A Better Chance at Getting the Job Done Quickly

Always have a tool in your hand when you walk around to evaluate your borders. And keep in mind that it’s ALWAYS easier and quicker to make the change when you first see the need, than it is to come back and do it later.


Even though it was raining the other day, I walked around looking at my borders to see what needed to be done. Had it not been raining I would have made the adjustments right then and there.

Since it’s not a good idea to work in gardens or flowers borders when they’re wet, I just made mental notes and made the adjustment the next day after things dried out.

One of the things that needed adjustment was a group of lilies, two of which were Stella D’oro. Its early bloom is nice and also the fact that it blooms again later. It’s bright in the landscape, but too much of that brightness can make my rating of my border fall from lovely to gaudy.

Stella, as many daylilies, can get huge over time. Two small plants spaced a foot apart, can still grow into a mass that is too large for their designated space in just three seasons.

It only took a minute or less to take out the clump that needed to be removed. One easy step towards making my border better.

What I Do with the Removed Plants

I utilize the plants I take out as organic material to feed the soil. Thus, I’ll cut the foliage off the removed clump and leave the foliage in that spot to return to the earth. The roots I usually cut (or pull them apart) into small pieces and leave the pieces on top of mulch at the edge of the border.


Daylilies are strong plants. If you don’t cut up the root, there’s a good chance it will attach to the soil and grow, even if you lay it on top of the straw at the edge of your border.

I want it to become part of the soil as organic matter, not another growing plant. So I cut or chop roots, but still keep an eye on them when I make my rounds to make sure they’re not growing. If they are, I’ll chop them more.

Object to the Look?

If you have a small flower border you may or may not object to the look of dying foliage and/or roots.  They won’t be noticeable long, believe me. I have an acre to tend, so I don’t object at all.

If you do, just put a light sprinkling of straw or grass clippings or wood chips over the foliage or roots to render them invisible. But don’t cover the roots too much, because you’ll want to be able to see immediately if they’re rooting again.

Advantage of Making an Adjustment During Bloom Time (or as bloom diminishes)

By moving daylilies (and various other perennials) during bloom time (or as bloom diminishes) you know exactly what the color is. If you wait until after bloom, you may forget the color of that particular plant and not remember how much of it  you want to take out or where you want to move it.

(My identification markers always always seem to walk around by themselves, so I can’t depend on them totally.)


Borders can look lush and have lots of variety.  Plants can slightly overlap, but each plant needs enough “breathing” room and each group needs space around it for air. It’s also a nice rest for the eye.  If your borders are one big mass of plants it won’t be as pleasing to the eye as if you allow space.

Other Perennials

In addition to removing the Stella, I need to remove a few sedums, phlox, heliopsis, giant rudbeckia, and remove part of the large tradescantia clumps.

Final Thoughts

Gardens are constantly growing and changing. Thus, the design of flower borders and gardens is ongoing. As your plants grow and mature, the vision you have will tell you if they’re too much, too many, or in the wrong place.

If you utilize the techniques that I use of

  • carrying a hand tool with you when you evaluate your borders (a small mattock is great) and
  • making the change when you see it,

you’ll find that you’ll reach the look you want much more quickly.

Other Posts on Flower Border and Flower Garden Design:

Developing Garden Structure

3 Simple Concepts to Enhance Your Flower Gardens an Borders

Your Garden – How Penelope Hobhouse Can Help Make it Better

Border Design – Evergreens and Perennials

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