HANDS-ON GARDENER: Divide, Move & Conquer!

by Miriam Hansen

September is the time to divide and move those perennials that bloom in spring and summer. Rather than devote the whole column to this subject, I’m offering you this Clemson University Extension website, a useful resource on when and how to divide a long list of garden perennials. It covers plant division and moving, as well as detailed diagrams of different kinds of root systems. http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/flowers/hgic1150.html

Photo courtesy of Miriam Hansen

Photo courtesy of Miriam Hansen

This is also the time of year to assess a bed and move or even discard plants that:

  • Have not thrived in the place you’ve planted them
  • Are lost behind larger plants
  • Need to be behind something because as their blooms go by, the foliage becomes unsightly
  • You want more space between plants

Moving plants to create space between them is not just about giving the plant optimum conditions for growth. It is about “isolating” plants from each other, a landscaping technique as important as creating a clean new edge for a bed. Much as we appreciate a riot of color, the eye likes to bounce across a bed, and space between plants enhances that, much the same way as repetition of a plant across the bed.

September is also the time to take stock of the best varieties, be they pole beans or snapdragons, peonies or red peppers.

Here are my vegetable picks for the year:

Fortex are unbeatable as pole beans. They grow up to two feet long and unlike other varieties, they remain tender if huge, even if you don’t pick them for four or five days. Carmen is my favorite red pepper, two to three inches longer than the popular variety Lipstick. Carmens are sweet, deep red, tapered fruit, prolific and early. For hot peppers, I’ve winnowed it down to Jaluv, An Attitude, a cross between an open-pollinated Jalapeno and the variety called 45 Degrees North Attitude. Jaluv is available from Fedco’s, is quite hot (2,500 to 8,000 Scoville units) and has a sweet underlying flavor. One plant produces dozens of fruit. We dry ours and grind them to shake on whatever is for dinner tonight. Symphony is hands down the best cauliflower, with enormous (10 to 12 inch) pure white, sweet heads with none of the typical Brassica bite. This year I had poor luck with all the different varieties of broccoli I planted, but based on past success, I recommend Fiesta, a sweet, large (seven-inch), tightly domed broccoli that does equally well as an early or late crop. We grew a variety of cucumbers this year, all wildly productive! Silver slicer, a white, very sweet and delicious cuke, needs to be harvested young. They quickly over-ripen. For that reason, next year when I grow only ONE kind of cuke, I will probably stick with Tyria, an English cucumber that ripens slowly and is equally good harvested when it is very small or very large. If you are looking for a pickling variety, Cross Country is a highly productive gherkin but you have to harvest every other day or they will balloon! Space is a wildly productive, juicy spinach that tolerates heat well. For fall, my lettuce picks are Blushed Butter Cos and Nancy Butterhead. For a summer lettuce, I’d vote for heat-tolerant Magenta, a glossy Batavian type with red tinged leaves and a crispy green heart. For a true Romaine, Jericho is outstanding, huge and delicious.

The zinnias, marigolds and snapdragons are spectacular this fall. Both the Zahara Series Zinnias (15 to 18 inches) and Profusion Series Zinnias (12 inches) are a mass of blooms. Cut and Come Again Zinnias (almost three-feet-tall), combine a bold mix of candy colors and, as the name suggests, the more you pick, the more flowers they produce! I’ve been growing the dwarf Twinny Series of Snapdragons for a few years now, and last year, I planted both peach shades and bronze. Next year I’ll only plant the bronze. The bronze range is so much brighter and more vibrant. The peachy shades look washed out in comparison. I will continue to plant the deep orange, Chantilly Snapdragon, though I’ll have to come up with a staking strategy. They grow quite tall and fall over without support. For Cosmos, I’d recommend Sensation, a prolific, open-flowered variety. Like Chantilly, it really can use staking. Many have fallen over with the sheer weight of branches and blooms!

It can be hard to tell the first year whether a perennial you’ve started from seed is all you’re hoping for. This is less true with biennials that can bloom the first year if you plant them early enough. This has been the case with Strawberry Foxgloves, a gorgeous biennial the color of crushed strawberries. I’ve planted it from seed two years in a row and hope that it self-seeds like other foxgloves I’ve grown. I hope this is true because it has been blooming steadily for about three months!

Astra Double Blue Balloon Flower is a dwarf rock garden perennial that has bloomed first year as advertised. It also has an unusually long bloom time for a perennial, with gorgeous pure blue double flowers held just off the ground.

And what can I say about Lisianthus, that luscious annual that takes six months to bloom from seedling to flower? It is gorgeous, a worthy experiment and one I shall never repeat!

Happy harvesting, edging, dividing and moving!

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