Many people view perennials as a carefree plant. Once you have planted these in your garden, you figure you water them the first year and forget about them. However, just as pruning certain perennials can be important, so is dividing perennials.
Once your perennials have established themselves, usually in the third year, they will have grown into much larger clumps than what they were when you planted them. The new growth can actually begin to crowd out the original growth that is in the center of the plant. To prevent your perennials from getting an empty center, division is necessary.
The general rule of thumb is to wait three years after you have planted the perennial before attempting to divide the plant. The best time to divide spring blooming perennials is during the fall, when the hot summer temperatures have cooled and the plants are not in stress. All other perennials should be divided in the spring.
Spring is a great time to divide, not only because of the milder temperatures, but because the plants are just coming up for the year. They will be smaller in size than at the end of the summer when they have grown for several months, and are easier to handle for division. Dividing perennials during the hot summer months should be avoided, as the heat and sometimes drought can put a lot of stress on a plant that is trying to establish itself.
Also, to help prevent stress, perennials should be divided on an overcast day when the soil is fairly moist. If the ground is dry, water the plant before attempting to divide the perennials.
There are two routes you can take to divide your perennials. One is to dig up the entire plant, in one large clump, and then use a sharp spade to divide it into smaller clumps. You can also use a spade to divide the plant while it is still in the ground, sectioning it off and only digging up the portion you are separating from the rest of the plant.
Once you have decided how to go about dividing your perennial, you will want to have a sharp shovel or spade on hand to help with the division. When you are looking at the perennial, either the clump that you have dug up or the plant in the ground, you want to look for any natural divisions.
Once you have determined where to divide it, use the spade to help break apart the roots at the point you’re dividing. With some perennials, you may not even need to use a spade, but gently pull the roots apart with your hands into clumps. Then, re-plant the divided section, and original plant if you dug it up, just as you would with a perennial you were planting for the first time. Keep it well watered during that season, helping it establish itself in its new home.
Generally, perennials can be divided every three to four years, but there are some perennials that need to be divided more often and some that should never be divided. A few plants that you should not attempt to divide are baptisia or false indigo, butterfly weed, peonies, hellebores and Oriental poppies.
Perennial plant division is intimidating when you first think about tearing apart your plants, but the more you do it, the better you will get at it and the better your perennial plants will grow. If it makes you nervous, start with something easy, like hostas or daylilies.
When shopping for plants, the plant tags are the key to figuring out what to buy. A lot of times you can stroll through a garden center and look for what catches your eye, but if it’s early in the season, plants are not at their mature height yet, or may not even be flowering. This is especially true for perennials that do not bloom from spring through fall. By reading the plant tags thoroughly, you can learn just what to expect from each plant you select.
The first thing you’ll notice on the tag is the picture. This however, should not be what determines whether or not you purchase the plant. Between tags fading in the sun or mistakes in printing, the photos are often not exactly what the plant will look like. The color may look like a real blue in the photo, but as gardeners know, there are not a whole lot of true blue flowers, so the actual plant may be more of a purple.
The next thing that will be on every tag is the plant name. The name of a plant sold at a nursery should include the genus, species and common name. The first name you’ll see on the tag is the genus name. It’s always capitalized and italicized. The species name follows the genus name and is also italicized, but is not capitalized. In the example on the left “Nemesia” is the genus, “hybrid” is the species in this case and Sunsatia Lemon is the common name.
A genus is a cluster of plants with common characteristics that are easily recognized. Aster, Lamium and Petunia are examples of genus names. A genus may contain a single species or more than 100 species (as in Rosa). The genus is always the first word of the two Latin names of a plant--for example, Lamium maculatum or Rosa rugosa.
A species is a group of similar plants that live together in nature and cross breed among themselves. They have common characteristics and reproduce baby plants that are consistently like the parent plant, although there can be slight differences in appearance. The next time you walk through the woods, notice the variation in plants of a single species. For example, columbine. The flower size and color, and even foliage, vary among each specific plant, but they are all part of the same species.
Plant characteristics include:
- · Height and width
- · Length and season of bloom
- · Flower type, size, shape and color
- · Leaf size, shape and color
- · Bud shape and color
- · Stem shape and color
- · Seasonal foliage color
All of these characteristics can vary depending on the genus, species, cultivar, hybrid and variety.
Typically, the front of a tag will list the plant's common and scientific names, and summarize key information about it. Symbols on the tag give size information, as well as sun, soil, and water requirements.
The reverse side of the tag is usually devoted to more specific details on how to transplant and care for the plant. Plant tags often have additional plant characteristics listed on their tags, usually near the picture. These characteristics include if they attract butterflies, bees or hummingbirds, if they are deer resistant and if they are draught resistant or need a lot of water.
By doing a little bit of reading, you can plan a beautiful garden that will bloom when you want, grow as tall as you want, and attract the animals you want. You can also ensure you’re not in for any surprises when your garden begins to grow and mature throughout the season. A great gardening tip is to save, date and store the tags for the next year. This way you know what you planted and if it worked out.
As the weather begins to warm up, many of us have our gardens on our mind. But for many, this is an unfamiliar territory. With the recent trends of eating organic, many people are picking up shovels and planting gardens in their yard for the first time. To a rookie, this may seem like a daunting task, and with so many different terms and phrases being thrown around on the internet, in magazines and at the greenhouse, it can be very overwhelming.
So here’s a guide to the gardening basics to help those rookies decipher what everyone is talking about, and to refresh the rest of us after the long winter.
Annuals: One of the most important terms in gardening, the word annuals describes a category of plants that will grow and thrive during the summer, but cannot survive our harsh winters. These plants have a life cycle of one growing season here in the Midwest and need to be bought new each spring. Some of the most popular annuals include geraniums, petunias, alyssum, snapdragons and impatiens.
Perennials: Generally speaking, if your plant is not an annual, it is a perennial. This means that these plants will dependably return year after year. While they may not be evergreen, meaning that they stay green throughout the winter, they will shoot up new growth each spring. Some popular perennials in our area include salvia, Russian sage, daylilies, hostas and coral bells.
Zone 5: This is an important term for anyone planting perennials in their yard. There are 13 climate zones for gardening, and zone 5 is the one we are located in. So when shopping for perennials, be sure you purchase plants that say they can tolerate Zone 5 or less (Zones 1-5 can grow here). Any plants that say zone 6 may come back, but it cannot be guaranteed.
Drainage: Believe it or not, sitting in too much water is just as bad as not watering a plant at all. Drainage is an important part in anywhere you plant, both in containers and in the ground. If you have an area of your yard that water just sits in, you will need to find plants that survive better in very moist soil or ponds. On the other hand, if water runs through soil too quickly, it is considered well-drained and stays on the drier side. There are many perennials that prefer this type of soil so be sure to look at their plant tags when purchasing. (Need help reading plant tags? Stay tuned for next week's blog)
There is a way to test your soil’s drainage. Dig a hole about 18 inches deep and 6 inches wide. Fill it with water. Wait until the water has totally drained out and fill it again. Now watch to see how quickly the water drains out. Ideal soil should drain at about 2 inches per hour. If it drains faster, that means you will need to look for plants that don’t mind drier soil. If it drains slower, you will need plants that prefer moist soil. You can also add various amendments to your soil to combat any drainage issues.
Soil Amendments: These are various materials that you can add to your soil to help with drainage, add nutrients and make your soil a healthier environment for plants to grow. Mushroom compost, cow manure, peat moss and sand are all examples of amendments you can add to rocky, clay-like or poorly drained soil. Other amendments are granular, slow-release fertilizers that you can mix in with the soil as you plant. When using these at the time of planting, it is best to use an organic or a milder fertilizer, because using fertilizer on young roots can actually burn them and kill the plant.
Mulch: Everyone pretty much knows what mulch is, the final layer of shredded hardwood or bark chips that you put around plants on top of the soil. This isn’t just for appearance, however. Mulch helps keep the weeds down, keep soil cool and maintain soil moisture. In the fall, right before the freeze, it is recommended to use mulch to help protect the roots from the cold, especially with newly planted perennials.
Dead-heading or Pruning: When a salesperson tells you to be sure to dead-head your flowers to keep them blooming, they are referring to taking off the spent flowers. After flowers bloom, they go to seed and their job is done. To help the plant keep blooming, pop off these flower heads that are done flowering. With each plant the spent flower head is different, so be sure to ask about your plant when you purchase it.
Pruning is similar to dead-heading, but also entails cutting back dead branches and shaping the plant to a desired look. Many times to do this, especially with larger plants, roses and shrubs, using garden pruners or shears is recommended.
Fertilizer Numbers: On any fertilizer you purchase, there are three numbers on the package that look something like 20-20-20 or 10-54-10. These numbers are a guide to how this fertilizer should be used and on what plants. The first number listed is Nitrogen. This is nutrient helps plants grow and keeps them green. Phosphorus (P) percentage is the middle number. This primary nutrient encourages rooting, blooming and fruit production. The last number is Potassium, which helps plants to resist disease and aids in hardiness. So depending on the type of plant you have, picking a fertilizer with a higher number in that area of need can help the plant thrive all season long. If you don’t necessarily have one area you want to focus on, there are great general fertilizers that will have numbers like 20-20-20.
Potting Soil vs. Top Soil: Potting soil is a lightweight soil that is used for containers. Its consistency helps with drainage in the pot and it is lighter weight in case you need to move the container. Potting mix is similar to potting soil, but often contains fertilizer and moisture control pellets. The moisture control pellets help retain some water so that you don’t necessarily have to water as much.
Top soil is a denser, heavier soil that is just basic black dirt that you would add to your garden each year to help keep the soil fresh or when planting a tree.
For any additional questions you may have, feel free to contact us and we will do our best to help get you started towards your gardening goals.
During this growing season, many of you will hear, and some of you have already heard, about Impatiens Downy Mildew. This disease has recently broken out throughout the United States, but is not a new one. Impatiens downy mildew dates back to the late 1800s. A few years back, it began to pop up again in the South, then moved to the East coast and has recently hit the Midwest. This disease spreads to your typical bedding impatiens through the air, water and in previously infected soil. The fungus produces two different kinds of spores, which contribute to how easily it is spreading and the difficulty to fight it.
The first type of spore is Zoospores, which travel through water and wind. Oospores are the second type, which form in plant tissue. These spores make the disease particularly hard to fight because they will remain in the plant bed from year to year. Some studies have shown it may be killed if temperatures reach -5*F during the winter, but a very deep, long freeze is needed. With the mild winters we have been having, the disease has stuck around and spread further.
Impatiens downy mildew was recorded in 33 states last summer. The good news is that we had a long growing season last year, starting with 80 degree temperatures in March. With such a late start this year, we are hoping that the disease will not be as bad as last year or not be able to appear until the very end of summer.
Last year, the infection began to turn up in the Midwest during the later summer months, especially August. It is during this time that we have the high humidity that this disease thrives on. The high humidity, along with moisture on the leaves, are two of the main causes of this disease. Meaning, when you water your garden in the evening when you get home from work, you are increasing the chance of downy mildew as well as other diseases like root rot. The plant does not have a chance to dry off enough before the sun goes down, so they sit wet all night. This is not good for impatiens, or any other plants.
So what should you look for on your impatiens? The first sign is sporulation on the underside of the leaves. This means you will start to see white or gray fuzz on the underside of the leaves. From the top, the plants will look healthy, but underneath the mildew is already starting to take hold of the plants. Other symptoms can be mistaken for nutritional imbalances or other problems such as spider mites. Leaves will begin to turn a dull green and paler in color as time goes on, with yellow speckling beginning to appear on the foliage. The plants appear stunted in growth, with new growth being distorted. Foliage will begin to curl downward and the plant will appear wilted. If the disease gets far enough, the plant defoliates leaving you with just bare stems and tiny yellow leaves.
As discussed earlier, Impatiens Downy Mildew spreads quickly and can be hard to treat. The main treatment is prevention. This starts here, at the greenhouse. Our impatiens have been grown from seeds, meaning that we don’t use cuttings from growers in the south or anywhere else. By starting these from seed, there is no chance for the plants to be infected when we start our transplanting. We also plant these seeds, and all our plants, in sterilized soil. By sterilizing, or cooking, the soil, we kill any weed seed or fungus that may have existed in the material. So when you come to shop at the greenhouse, you can be assured we are sending you home with disease-free plants. In fact, last year was one of our best years for our impatiens. They were full of colorful blooms and healthy growth throughout the summer.
Your prevention can start before you even bring your plants home. Be sure to remove as much plant debris as possible at the end of each season, including dead leaves, stems and roots. When you plant your impatiens, as well as any plant, be sure not to overcrowd them. Give them enough space in between to allow proper air movement. Also, be sure that where you’re planting your flowers has proper drainage. As far as watering goes, eliminate night-time watering. The best time is to water is in morning, or at least five hours before sundown. Avoid getting water on leaves while you are watering. This can be done by using drip hoses through your garden or watering at the base of plants with a wand. Avoid planting your impatiens where they will be hit with your sprinkler every day. This will make it harder to control whether or not water is getting on the leaves, especially if your sprinklers go on in the evening.
A few weeks after you have planted your impatiens, be sure to inspect your leaves, top and bottom, on a regular basis. If you suspect a plant may have downy mildew, dispose of this plant immediately. Place roots, soil and all of the infected plants into a plastic bag and discard in the trash. Check the plants within a three foot radius of this infected plant as well. By properly discarding the infected plants, you will help prevent this disease from spreading any further throughout your yard or your neighborhood.
Unfortunately, there is no spray available to use once your plants have downy mildew. On a positive note, however, this only affects your bedding impatiens. Other flowers and even New Guinea impatiens and Sunpatiens are not affected by this strain. If your yard does get hit with downy mildew, do not continue to plant impatiens in your garden. Use the following alternatives for at least two to three years to be sure that the disease is completely out of your soil. If in a container, completely empty and throw away the soil in that container. Do not re-plant impatiens there the same year.
Some other shade loving annuals that you can use are coleus, begonias, New Guinea impatiens (not affected like bedding impatiens), caladiums and torenia. If your yard gets part shade, you have a few more options to plant. Flowers like nicotiana, ivy geraniums, diamond frost, lobelia, dusty miller and alyssum.
If you had downy mildew last year, or suspect that you may have had it, we recommend using an alternative plant this year. If you didn’t, there is no guarantee of whether you will or will not get it this summer. By using the steps we have listed, you can help prevent it in your yard. In the end it is up to you on whether you want to take the risk. I know I will still be planting my bed up as usual with my colorful mixed impatiens.