What will the plants look like when they arrive?
The same plant will look different at different times of the year. This is because almost all perennials die back in autumn and emerge in spring. By summer they are almost fully grown and come autumn the whole process starts again. The most important thing to remember is that perennials all grow at different rates. Some will grow quicker than others, putting up leaves and flowers before others have even thought about it. Even among a plant group, Astrantias for instance, one variety may grow much quicker than another.
Perennials In Spring
If you buy a plant in spring you are buying a promise of what is to come. Most perennials will have no or very little top growth. The exception are plants with evergreen or semi-evergreen leaves.
Perennials In Summer
By June the majority of perennials have put on most of their top growth. Some of the leaves and stems can be damaged in transit, therefore we often cut back plants not only to prevent damage, but to encourage a bushier plant.
Perennials In Autumn
In autumn the leaves on most perennials will die back. We often cut off all the leaves just to tidy the plant up. This is the time we send out any plant that is sold as a bare root.
Perennials In Winter
In winter perennials are dormant which means that most plants will have no or very few leaves although if they are described as ‘evergreen’ they will have some leaves. Don’t worry perennials with no leaves during the winter will have plenty of roots to sustain them during this cold period.
What should the roots look like?
This depends on when the plant is potted. Most perennials are potted into 9cm pots before the end of July so that the roots will established in time for the cold winter months. The roots of different perennials grow at different rates. This depends on the variety; some establish quicker than others and therefore will produce abundant roots (for instance many hardy geraniums) while others are slower and the roots may appear sparse (for instance astrantia).
One point to remember, roots poking out of the bottom of the pot are not always an indication of a plant being pot bound. Some perennials go so quickly the roots can fill a pot within a few weeks.