Gardening Blog

When should I divide my perennials?

Yesterday was a gorgeous September day and I found myself out in the garden admiring my perennials–my mums have all of a sudden exploded with colour! Some of my plants, however, have gotten quite dense over the summer. A couple of my hostas are so huge a neighbourhood cat was sleeping under one the other day and I didn't even notice until it crawled out and gave me a sleepy “meow.”

What to do with my crowded beds? I haven't really had to divide anything until now (except my irises), so I wasn't sure when the best time of year is to do it.

I consulted Anne as I think I'd probably better get a move on if I'm going to divide anything before the first frost. Here is her advice:

  • The best time to divide most perennials is in early spring. This will give the plant time to get settled before the summer weather challenges arrive.
  • The second best time to divide most perennials is in early fall, when the soil is still warm and plants can get settled before winter arrives. Divide perennials about 6 weeks before the first frost.
  • Some considerations to think about; often the soil is too wet to dig in the spring when it is the ideal time to divide. Some experts also suggest that spring and summer blooming perennials should be divided in the fall, and fall blooming perennials divided in the spring. This means you are dividing non-blooming plants, which will have a better chance of survival.
  • Exceptions to this rule include bearded iris (August only), columbine (fall only), oriental poppy (early summer after flowering), bleeding heart (early summer after flowering) and peony (late summer).
  • Divide plants on a cloudy day. Water them well the day before the move. And water them well after the move.
  • Cover them if necessary to reduce wilting.
  • Take as much soil as you can lift from around the roots and replant immediately.
  • Use a garden fork or garden spade to loosen the soil and dig out the clump. An old, large kitchen knife, sharp garden spade or two garden forks are handy to divide the clump. Save the most vigorous sections of your clump from the outer edges to replant.

This information will find a place in my gardening journal. I also found this article written by Anne on dividing perennials, which I am going to print, along with the information above, for handy reference.

My first tomatillos = salsa verde

A week or so ago we had a big storm in the night that basically snapped major branches off my poor tomatoes and my tomatillo plant. I went into emergency gathering mode as I picked the tomatillos off the sorry-looking branch that I could not save.

I had quite a few tomatillos that seemed a fairly good size, but they hadn't quite filled out their pod. The good news is that they were bright green, which according to my research is when they're at their best. Anyhow, I had to use them, so I immediately did a search for salsa verde or green salsa so I could use them up right away. One of my favourite dishes at Mexican restaurants is green enchiladas. Until I planted my tomatillo, I was quite ignorant to the fact that the tangy, flavourful salsa smothering my meal was made from tomatillos.

I found a few recipes online, all of them pretty similar. I used this recipe from CanadianLiving.com and instead of the canned variety, I roasted my tomatillos under the broiler for about five minutes per side, let them cool and then squished them up in the blender. I then mixed the remaining ingredients and the result was absolutely delicious on my beef burritos!

Hats off

A helpful friend just reminded me that fall is officially here. Go tell that to my summer containers, which are still blooming their hearts out. No need to go rushing out to pick up pots of mums or asters for the front steps, when my tuberous begonias continue to put on such a glorious show (they’re a lot more sturdy than people give them credit for, by the way).

With the advent of fall, some things do need to be changed, I guess. Take the straw hats on my hallstand, which scream of summer garden parties and a minty, fruit-and-cucumber-filled glass of Pimm’s. Two of them are vintage–my favourite one has strawberries both on and underneath the brim; very Carmen Miranda. Another is covered with pansies and black tulle–definitely not a mucking about in the garden kind of hat but just right for an outdoor soiree.

Underneath the hall stand is a basket filled with the more prosaic fabric hats and gloves I wear in the garden when I’m out there working. (With my fair skin, I’m vigilant about sunscreen and covering up in the sun–the doctor has already sliced a pre-cancerous chunk out of my chin, and it doesn’t look like a cleft).

I suspect, however, that just like my sandals, which also have yet to put away, I’ll drag my feet on stashing the hats. For once they go, it means I need to pull out and display the winter ones, which of course also means acknowledging the beginning of six months of largely grey and often dreary days, few of them spent in the garden.

A seed gathering I will go

Last weekend I signed up for a two-hour seminar on collecting and storing seeds at the Evergreen Brickworks Farmer's Market. Our teacher was Maria Kasstan, who was there on behalf of Seeds of Diversity Canada, “a charitable organization working to save Canada's endangered horticultural and agricultural heritage.”

What piqued my interest when I saw the class advertised on the website was the idea that I can harvest seeds from my flowers and share them with friends. I've had neighbours walk by commenting on my garden–and some have even had the nerve to ask if they can pick off a dried bud from this or that plant, which I've happily agreed to. But I never really understood how to go about preserving them until next year.

Maria was a fountain of knowledge as she explained the important process of pollination and some of the plants that can lure bees into the yard. She then went on to describe the importance of preserving heritage seeds–and how to do it. That was another reason I had attended–even though my crop of tomatoes just wasn't meant to be this year, I was hoping I could save some seeds for next year.

I learned what I need to do is take a very ripe tomato and let it rot for three to four days. This helps to eliminate that gel that's around a tomato seed–a germination inhibitor. After that, you can pick out the seeds (I think I'll leave that job for my boyfriend), dry them and store them in the refrigerator or freezer until spring. Be sure to use a jar or paper to store, never plastic!

Armed with our new knowledge–and some little envelopes, our morning ended out in the wildflower garden gathering wildflower seeds to entice pollinators to our yards next spring.

Click here for more tips on storing and preserving your seeds.

Will my herbs survive the winter?

For my last post, I found out that my herbs are basically done for the season. But I wanted to know what I can do with them over the winter. The mint is in a big pot, but the other two are in the ground.

Sadly, my cilantro and basil will not overwinter, so I am going to try to collect the seeds in case I want to try starting them myself next spring.

However, Anne Marie says the mint is hardy and can be planted in the garden. Since it is very invasive, I must keep it in the pot and just lower the whole thing into the ground. Keeping it in the pot will keep it contained for a while so it won't spread everywhere too fast.

Or, I can bring the pot into a garage or shed for the winter or tuck it up against the house and pack leaves around it.

Stan’s Jade Plant

Some 20 years ago, my friend Penny’s mother, Jean, gave me her late husband’s jade plant for safe keeping. She was moving from her bright apartment into another with less natural light, and had no room for it. I’m not sure how long Stanley had been growing it, but it was quite a size when it came to me and it’s gotten bigger ever since.

Anyone who has grown a jade knows their branches are very fragile and break off with the slightest nudge. So this one has never been repotted, and lives in a surprisingly small plastic container with little soil (jades like to be potbound). This pot rests in a large terracotta one to give the plant stability. I water it when I remember and feed it very seldom.

The plant has become a behemoth–its wingspan is about four feet, and its height a good three. I used to be better about pinching it back and moving the pot around so it grew evenly, but I’ve become less attentive so its a bit misshapen. It’s too heavy and cumbersome to move outdoors anymore, so it lives, summer and winter, on my sun porch, where it gets plenty of light and copes with extremes of heat and cold. It’s never flowered–my porch faces west, and maybe the sun just isn’t intense enough through those windows.

The other day, Penny was over for a visit.

“Hey, is that my dad’s old jade plant?” she asked.

“Yes, it is,” I replied, thinking she might ask to keep it.

“Kinda ugly, isn’t it?” she remarked.

Uh huh. And I guess it’s mine until further notice.

What happened to my poor herbs?

This past spring, I planted three herbsbasil, cilantro and mint–imagining the fresh flavours in my meals all season long. However, in the last few weeks, they've all grown flowers on top. My poor cilantro completely fell over from the weight and my basil just doesn't seem as bushy or yummy-looking. Sigh. My herb-infused culinary creations will have to wait until I figure out if they're still edible. Furthermore, can I cut back the flowers without damaging the plants?

Here's what Anne Marie had to say about the fate of the most fragrant end of my garden.

Some herbs are still quite useable even after they start to flower but others get too strong or woodier once this takes place. For most, frequent harvesting make the plants bushier and produce more harvestable stems.

Mint is usable before and after it flowers. In fact, mint can be collected and dried as the flowers begin to open. Young, tender stems before flowering are better than the older, woodier, bitter stems. Use the leaves dried or fresh.

Basil should be used when young before it goes to flower. You can stall the flowering by pinching out the flower buds whenever you see them. This will help create a bushier plant and promote more side growth. Basil stops producing nice leafy growth when it flowers. It is best to use fresh basil or cut it for drying up until just before the flowers open.

Cilantro should be harvested before the plant goes into flower. I don't know of any way to delay this from happening. It usually starts flowering once the weather gets hot. Or let it flower and harvest the seeds as coriander in late summer.

Ok, better luck next year with my basil and maybe I'll whip outside tomorrow and see about collecting my own coriander. That sounds promising.

But will my edible plants make it through the winter? Stay tuned!

I “heart” my rain barrel

For a great deal of the summer, I haven't had to worry about watering. In fact, my yard was becoming downright soggy. I think I spied moss behind the barbecue!

However, these past couple of weeks, the soil has become as dry as a desert and by the end of a hot day, things generally look a little wilty. Luckily my trusty rain barrel is almost to the brim from the deluge of rain we've received here in Southern Ontario all season.

Take a look at the guest entry I wrote for CanadianLiving.com's Green Living blog extolling the virtues of my water-bearing rain barrel.

And for those of you who are also going through a wee dry spell, here are some articles with helpful watering advice.

• The best ways to water
• Water update
• Watering wisdom

Journey’s end

Relaxing on the train back to Edmonton, I think back over our journey (and am comfortable now with the train’s rhythm, which, due to the reality of being shunted aside by freight trains from time to time, seems less schedule-driven than destination-based). No matter. I’ve been sitting in the catbird’s seat, leisurely gazing at the beauty that is Canada–by turns rugged, gentle-looking, majestic and surprising, and always, always inspiring; it makes my heart swell with pride.

I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to sample part of the Via Rail Garden Route. It’s been so much fun I decide one day I’ll make the time to travel from Halifax to Vancouver by train–from sea to shining sea–stopping off at various locations to see the gardens, get a sense of the cities/towns, meet the people. I reckon that doing it this way and at a leisurely pace would likely take about a month, but that’s okay–what a fabulous experience. In fact, it’s one I would heartily recommend to any Canadian to add to their “100 things I have to do before I die” list; our own Canuck version of the Grand Tour, by train. One thing for sure: getting there (wherever “there” is) would certainly be half the fun.

The hills are alive: Day two

Another beautiful day in paradise. For breakfast, Carol, Shannon and I yum up some delicious spicy sausage rolls from the local bakery, washed down with lattes, then set off to visit four private gardens. They’re very different from one another–one is stuffed full of colourful annuals, another focuses on native plants, a third has charming vignettes and pretty corners galore and the final one is very shady–offering ample proof (as if I needed it) that you can create really lovely spaces even in a place with a really short growing season. Afterwards, we head for the famed Jasper Park Lodge to have a look around its stunning grounds. Talk about picture-postcard perfect.

Many of the lakes up here are jade green or bright, swimming-pool-turquoise in colour. I’m told this is caused by stirred-up sediment in the glacial runoff, which also gives me a clue as to the water’s temperature. Brrr. As someone who doesn’t venture into the water unless I can put my toe in without flinching, you won’t catch me going for a dip anytime soon. Come to think of it, I don’t see anyone else swimming, either.

At lunch, I devour a massive Cobb salad. Where is this appetite coming from? Thank heavens I don’t eat like this at home, for never mind gardener at large–I’d soon be known as the large gardener.

That afternoon, Shannon drives us to an area just beyond town known as the bench, where there are wonderful lookout points and numerous small lakes; even a path that takes us to a little island in the middle of one. Our feet are silent on a soft carpet of pine needles, and the sun-warmed conifers release their resin scent into the air. There are a few other people there, but nobody speaks. Too gobsmacked by beauty, I reckon.

(By the way, Shannon passed along the names of some of the plants that have proven to be elk-proof in her municipal displays. These include snapdragons, marigolds, alyssum, verbenas, salpiglossis [a.k.a. painted tongue], ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia farinacea, bidens, dusty miller, zinnias, gazanias and so far–those gorgeous godetias. Not a bad list for carefree colour.)

Later on, we return to our base and rest up to be ready for that evening’s excitement, courtesy of Jasper Adventure Centre. It’s a wildlife adventure tour, followed by a visit to Miette Hot Springs where we will take the waters–all told, a four-hour excursion by minivan. We see a female elk browsing by the side of the road, a bald eagle high up in a tree, and a little black bear. We don’t see a grizzly, which is another possibility, but that’s fine by me. Nothing scary or dangerous, thank you very much.

At the hot springs, which are sulfurous and smell a bit like rotten eggs, the water temperature is 104 degrees–now THAT’S more my kind of pool. Carol and I gratefully sink into its warmth and have a good, long wallow. It’s a perfect ending to our visit, for tomorrow we head back to Edmonton on the train to catch our red-eye flight home.

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 ...43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 Next

Follow Style At Home Online

Facebook Activity

Contests

Latest Contests

more contests