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Old friend back with advice

Most perennials are up and moving fast. And you may be wondering which ones, if any, need to be divided or dug up. Sometimes it's hard to tell. But, then again, there are a few obvious clues.

Most perennials are up and moving fast. And you may be wondering which ones, if any, need to be divided or dug up. Sometimes it's hard to tell. But, then again, there are a few obvious clues.

If a plant that used to bloom prolifically is now just putting out a few blooms, something must be different than it was originally. So that may mean it needs to be divided. If it isn't, a plant will send up just a few canes because it is losing its strength.

About the time I was trying to figure it out, here came Old Gardener.

You may remember him, though he hasn't visited my garden for a while.

He is the little old man with the faded red shirt, the tattered green jeans and the green and red stocking cap who surprised me in my garden one unseasonably warm December day. His lecture discussed my procrastination about not cleaning up the garden before freeze-up.


This time, he was just paying a quick visit with no lectures, he said.

But he had something to say, as usual. His comments helped me, especially those about my white lilac bush.

I had told him that while the white lilac used to produce many, many blossoms, it hadn't lately.

"That lilac should have produced more than a few, considering the years it was here," Old Gardener said. "If you really want a white lilac, go ahead and replant. But if you want something interesting all year, such as shrubs with berries or leaf color, then pick something else.

"But gardeners tend to keep things that are past their prime, that just limp along, or that aren't particularly beautiful or useful."

Then he began to illustrate his point. "Sometimes it's because they don't feel like doing the work of digging up. Or maybe a good friend gave the plant to them and they hate to destroy it, thinking the friend will have her feelings hurt. Then again, gardeners have been known to be overly optimistic, thinking, well, maybe it will be better next year."

He waved his arms: "Dig up that stingy blooming daylily, throw away those old irises with muddy colors and get some of the bright new ones, discard those rose bushes that you have had around several years but still only produce one flower or so."

"I'll do that next year," I replied quickly. "Do you have any other advice for my friends and me?"


"Sure," he said instantly. I wasn't a bit surprised.

OG listed his ideas on the fingers of his gloves.

"Plant more annuals," he said. "Most growers who favor perennials don't plant enough, so their gardens are kind of drab in August. But annual growers don't plant enough perennials, either, so they have hardly anything blooming in May and June.

"Plant more roses. Tell everyone to plant more roses. You know, you had a lot of good roses around here when the old Red River Rose Society was in full gear and put on a rose show and educational programs.

"Find a way to help senior citizens grow things. Seems to me those rest homes should have spots for the old folks to have gardens. Most of them can garden circles around their kids, but they don't have the muscles to dig. But providing some help would give people a lot to look forward to after one of our winters.

"Teach the kids something about gardening, too. How many kids do you know who have gardens? Maybe they think that's rather uncool. But, perhaps, somebody could make it more popular."

As helpful as that was, I could think of a few more ideas to dig up and divide perennials. One is to enrich the plant sales that are coming up soon. They will need new plants or starts of old plants. Do you have something unusual in your garden? Many gardeners look for them. Dig the plants now so they are ready to go when the sale starts.

This is also a very good time to divide your plants - although I will admit the weather is such that you won't want to spend that much time outside.


And make plans for your vegetable garden.

I've already been asked what to do about damage from bunnies. You can use dried blood, available at garden stores, which is also good for the garden but needs to be renewed after rains. Otherwise, it isn't easy to deter rabbits or deer. I won't get into that controversy. If you have or can find a good method, let me know so I can help readers.

Readers can reach Forum gardening columnist Dorothy Collins at dorothycollins@i29.net

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