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Divide to conquer: time to split up those perennials?

This is the time of the year when we look at our gardens and shrubs, and maybe even some of our trees, and ask ourselves "What happened?"

This spring when everything was coming up, there was so much space, and we probably had pruned those shrubs and trees down a lot so there was plenty of space. But now there is what looks like a tangled mess. What did we do wrong? First let's take into account that everything grows and often perennials have to be divided every three years or so. However, with the amount of rain we have had this season, everything has grown much more then usual. This is good, you know that those plants (perennials, shrubs, or trees) have well established roots systems. Trees especially have had a wonderful growing year, and if you planted seedlings, consider yourself blessed with a year unmatched in the past fifteen for starting trees.

Our shrubs have done exceptionally well. However, it is getting late to prune back shrubs, even if they are arborvitae or junipers. The best time to prune shrubs and trees is February to early April (but best if done before April 1). So unless that shrub has invaded your living space it is best not to prune now. Keep in mind how huge it is this summer with all its leaves, and know it needs to be pruned down a lot next spring. When pruned it will become thicker, denser and very full looking.

This is really the best time of the year to talk about plant size and spacing, and plant location regarding sun and shade. Because the plants you are dealing with are plants that you know. Just looking at your garden will tell you that some of these need to be divided or just removed. Also plants that you had planted in a certain location may not have preformed the way you expected. Ask yourself, did they get too much sun? Did they not get enough sun? Or were they too crowded?

This is a fun garden activity because you are planning for the future and to make your garden better. When the flowers are in bloom is the time to put string around color groups of different varieties so you know where one stops and another starts. Usually foliage of daisies, daylilies, lilies and phlox looks very much the same. Use different color string for the colors of flowers, or some type of labeling on the string and record it on a piece paper. The time to divide and transplant is after blooming is passed and the labels or color coding will be your clue as to what you need to divide.

Also if that plant you were so looking forward to blossoming, never did or seemed overwhelmed by the sun, moving it to a more appropriate location may be what it needs. If you don't know, check to see what type of sun or shade exposure in which it preforms best. Some of your plants may have had a tough summer in the wind. Can they be moved to a location with more protection, or can you stake or support them to help them withstand the elements?

If that flower garden is blooming well but still is very crowded with thick growth, you can still thin it out right now. This will improve the air flow in the garden so stems and leaves can dry off quickly after heavy rains and prevent diseases such as downy mildew. Wet, humid conditions are perfect for the growth of downy mildew and also blights. Go in and cut out the entire stem down close to the ground every third or fourth plant depending on how thick the group is. You may think that you will destroy the beauty of the garden by cutting out all these stems, however it will provide a healthier environment and space for the remaining stalks to present themselves better.

Many a new flower garden has been created by divisions from another garden. It is always nice to give these divisions to other gardeners, or to do trades. I know in my garden it is fun to look at the flowers and remember I got this one from so and so and that one from so and so. Many of these people have passed away, and then it is truly a memorial to them. That is why garden clubs have plant sales in the spring or fall, you can get some great buys from great gardeners. Or put them out on the curb or end of your driveway and say FREE! You will still be adding beauty to the world.

Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.