Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
April, 2011
Regional Report

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Dig around the dripline of the perennial in need of division to make it easier to lift.

Helping Old Garden Friends

Some of the oldest residents of the garden are awakening from their winter's rest. These hardy perennials are always dependable, but often they're taken for granted. Now is an excellent time to rejuvenate many perennials since the soil is easy to dig in and cool temperatures reduce severe dehydration from the sun and wind.

Your newly-divided perennials will respond best when you replenish the soil with good compost before resetting. The compost will help maintain fertility and improve drainage. I like to add about one-third compost by volume to the old soil and work it into the planting area to a depth of four inches or more.

Over the years I've learned a lot about the plants I've planted in my garden and those that were first planted in my family's garden at the homestead. Perennials are their healthiest and produce more bountiful blooms when they are young and are allowed room to spread.

It's best not to wait until the plant looks ragged to divide it. I like to check emerging perennials at this time of year and look for signs of trouble. Maybe the center of the plant is getting thinner or showing signs of weaker growth or decay. It may be running out of growing room on its edges, with nowhere to go but into the lawn or the growing space of other plants.

When lifting out a perennial, I like to start at its dripline, the outermost ridges of the plant. Since roots extend farther from the center, digging at the dripline lets you lift the plant with most of the healthy roots intact and reduce the amount of root damage. Think about digging a trench around the perennial clump, cleanly severing any roots, and then cut at an angle down and under the clump at various points around the edges until you can lift the plant out easily. For really old perennials that may have been neglected for some time, you should dig the trench around the plant then slice down through the center of the plant, halving it before undercutting and lifting it.

Once out of its old home, its time to divide your old perennial friend. Discard discolored stems or roots and crusty, old crowns. Keep the vigorous sections that will be quick to reestablish. This may comprise 25 to 30 percent of the original clump. Healthier, smaller sections will grow more vigorously and produce stronger, more abundantly blooming plants. Set new divisions into a planting hole that is twice as wide as the spread of the roots. The depth should be the same as that of the original plant. Finish up with a good watering and application of a light mulch of compost.

That's it, in some brevity, but of course, your lifting and dividing may entail more or less work. Just remember, that now is a great time to rejuvenate some of your oldest perennials of the garden.

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