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Into the Garden: Divide plants now for a showier spring

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I hate long division. In math and in the garden.

Dividing plants has never been a favorite chore for me, and this week I'll be dividing my peonies because I got a gentle reminder from my Extension Service calendar. Soon, I'll divide my other perennials too.

Tips from Fine Gardening magazine include:

  • Divide when the plant looks good. Don't wait until it's too big or too pitiful to divide it. I have a few Sedum 'Autumn Joy' plants that I've let go too long -- the centers of the plants have smaller leaves, fewer flowers and weaker blooming stalks.
  • Start at the drip line. The roots generally extend that far. Dig a trench around the clump, sever roots cleanly, and then cut at an angle down and under the clump all the way around. If the plant is large or heavy, you might have to slice through the center, into halves or quarters.
  • Divide in cool weather, when the soil is warmer than the air for at lease part of every 24-hour period.
  • Replenish soil with organic matter. If you take out a plant, fill the hole with compost.
  • Use vigorous sections first. After dividing, replant pieces that are, at most, 20 to 25 percent of the original clump. And keep only the healthiest pieces of the plant, typically the outside sections.
  • Place a division into a hole that is at least as wide as its roots when spread out.
  • Don't forget to water this fall. Trees and shrubs are already stressed due to our harsh summer and will need a bit of TLC during the autumn months.

    Using a soaker hose on a timer is an efficient way to water new plants. There are kits available at many garden centers that include soaker hoses and regular hoses. Put the soaker section around the base of the plant, and then use the regular garden-type hose between plants so you don't waste water.

    Other fall chores slated for the next few weeks include digging up cannas and dahlias, planting new trees (to replace those lost in the derecho), and putting away all of the garden stakes and pots.

    The National Home Gardening Club suggests putting terra cotta pots in a place where they will not experience the freeze-and-thaw cycle. A porous material, terra cotta gets water into the pores, and the freezing and thawing of that water will cause the pots to break. Even if the pots are glazed, they will still crack in cold weather.

    Dump out the pots, scrub the pot lightly with a wire brush, then wash with a 10 percent bleach solution. Let the pots dry, and store them where they won't get wet. If you must leave them outdoors, mulch around the terra cotta thoroughly, surround it with burlap and fill the burlap with an insulator such as dry leaves, straw or pine needles.

    Plastic pots can become brittle in cold weather. Storing them away from extreme cold is good -- they also will benefit from a good scrubbing with a 10 percent bleach solution.

    I learned a valuable lesson last year when I brought in my houseplants that had enjoyed a summer vacation on the back porch. Insects had burrowed into the bottom of the plants (through the little drainage hole) and, once inside, they decided to find new digs. So be sure to give the plants a good rinsing with the hose to remove any bugs from the leaves and stems, and check the bottom of the pot for any freeloaders. Prune any damaged parts, and repot if necessary.

    Before you bring houseplants inside, put them in a shady area outside. This will get them accustomed to the lower light conditions indoors.

    To prepare rosebushes for winter, prune dead or damaged branches and cut off any old flowers. Place topsoil or mulch in a mound around the bottom, and cut canes back to six to 12 inches. You can put a bushel basket over the entire plant for more protection. Be careful, however, not to cut too low. Many roses are grafted onto sturdy root stock, and if you cut too low, you'll remove all of the grafted parts that you've bought for their interesting blooms.

    Wooden and metal furniture are best stored somewhere out of the weather, or under a tarp or cover. Some metals, such as cast iron, are susceptible to rust. Use rustproof paint to protect these items.

    Sharpen your tools (mower blades, pruners, shears) now. Take your mowers and other gas-powered equipment to be serviced now -- don't wait for the long lines of spring.

    Next week: lawns!

    Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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