Proper site selection is critical for success with perennials. Because the plants will reside in the same place for many years, they must be adapted to conditions where planted. If not, they may never reach their full potential for beauty in the landscape.
Major soil preparation in a perennial bed is completed only one time, just prior to planting. Consequently, to avoid future difficulties it must be done properly to ensure a healthy environment. First, kill and remove any persistent weeds and grass. Such weeds are difficult to manage once the beds are planted. This may take several months and multiple applications of a systemic herbicide. Next, make sure the site has good quality topsoil. This may require addition of topsoil, particularly in new home sites. Amend the soil by adding 2-3 inches of well-aged compost or manure. This is especially important in the arid, calcareous soils of southern Idaho. Add a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-5 at the equivalent of 3 lb/1000 sq. ft. of nitrogen. The fertilizer choice should be high in phosphorus and should preferably include sulfur in southern Idaho.
After amendments are added, the soil should be tilled to a depth of at least 8 inches, leveled, and smoothed (but not packed). Just prior to, or immediately after, planting it is a good idea to add two or three inches of mulch (wood chips, bark, etc.) to the soil surface. It may also pay dividends to place some type of edging or border material around the bed to slow encroachment of grasses or other weeds.