Fall is the small-budget gardener’s windfall season for freebies.
It is time for dividing certain perennials to make them bloom better next year. It’s also when herbaceous plants such as culinary herbs are dug out of places they’ve invaded.
The equinox, arriving Sept. 23, tells plants they’d better go to bed before the cold arrives. Growth slows, and that means they are much easier to transplant without shock.
Spring is the season when we are intuitively driven to make gardens and plant them. But the truth is, fall can be far more productive if you need plants but have little money. Gardeners across America are cleaning up their beds and borders in the fall to make sure there is no winter haven for bugs or diseases. In the process, they’ll dig and divide overgrown plants to encourage better bloom next year, which is true of phlox and daylilies.
If they don’t divide, they may be pulling or digging the adventurous growth to keep it in bounds. This is not uncommon for mints and groundcovers like ajuga. Either way, they’ll be far happier to give away this plethora of plants to an interested recipient or new gardener than dump them unceremoniously into the compost heap.
The first step to connecting with accomplished gardeners is to announce your intentions – you’re looking for rooted divisions and overflow plants. Announce it in person at a meeting or hang a flier at your church, club, workplace or wherever else you can. In fact, this kind of sharing was the reason for Depression-era garden clubs in the first place, to aid those in need.
It’s important to pick up the divisions or plantlets as soon as possible and immediately plant them in pots or in the ground. To save time, you can gang them into pots where roots are kept moist until you have time to plant. Always put them in the shade and keep cool.
When you go to plant one of the divisions, wash it clean, then carefully clip off any broken, crushed or damaged roots, stems and leaves, which can invite disease to enter the plant. Then plant them in the ground or in pots at the same level they were in their former location. In warmer climates, the best time to do this task is in the evening so they have all night to adjust before the heat of the day arrives.
Don’t be surprised if you encounter plants that look half dead before or after planting. It never ceases to amaze me how much life still exists within a battered stem or root. You can give poor doers a lift by using Superthrive, a mix of all sorts of plant hormones.
It’s been used by the nursery business for decades for just this problem, to help bruised and battered transplants adjust more quickly to less-than-ideal conditions. Simply mix it with water and pour onto plants, which absorb the hormones through roots and directly into leaves. Keep the transplants shaded from direct sun if there’s an unseasonable spate of hot weather.
If you live in northern areas, be sure to provide protective mulches so they won’t be damaged in the spring cycles of freeze-thaw. Be prepared for losses by planting more than you think you’ll need.
Not all perennials take to division or transplanting this time of year. Ornamental grasses, for example, won’t abide it in fall since they flower so late in the season. Fortunately, our most outstanding border bloomers are in this category, and can provide you with a garden full of beautiful plants gleaned from the discards of others.