Jean Kuehn, UM Extension Master Gardener in Anoka County, October 10, 2015
We know from experience that planning is a good—indeed a very good – thing to do. So now that you have cleaned up your garden, cut back the perennials, removed all the debris and any diseased plants, composted the leaves, mulched where needed, cleaned your tools and taken in any liquid fertilizer or sprays from that shelf in the garage where they will freeze, you can feel good about sitting down with a nice warm cup of coffee or tea and thinking ahead to the next growing season.
But first, think about the season that has just finished. Many of us have short term memories and by next planting season, we may have forgotten the lessons our gardens were teaching us this year. What plants looked especially good this year? What did you do to contribute to the health of the plants? Did you water better, or differently? Or maybe you fertilized more or less, or used liquid rather than dry fertilizer? What mistakes did your make? What did you do right? Whatever the answers are, it could be very helpful to jot down the information in a notebook and think about how you will respond to all those questions next season. What plants will you try in your garden next year? What changes will you make? What will you do better?
Most perennials spread beyond the original area where we planted them, which is great—until they expand beyond where we want them. Make notes now, on which ones will need to be split, moved, thinned or just removed next spring. Bulbs and rhizomes, like tulips and iris that bloom early in the spring, should be moved or thinned in the fall, but most perennials can be moved more easily in the spring when the plants are smaller. Hostas are so hardy, they can be moved almost any time the spirit moves us, but typically, we do it in the spring when the leaves are tightly wrapped forming a stalk-like finger poking out of the ground. Lilies too, are very forgiving whenever we move them, but moving them in the spring allows the plants time to recover before they bloom, giving us a stronger healthier plant. Also think about water needs of various plants. For example, bulbs like iris and tulips do not require the same amount of water that annuals do.
Creating a stronger healthier plant is the real reason we split, separate and thin our plants. Plant roots need room to grow to gather sufficient water and nutrients from the soil. Plants that are susceptible to fungal disease benefit from better air circulation, and a little space between plants helps the plants that need lots of sun from shading each other. While you are thinking about sun, what plants would benefit from more sun or more shade? When transplanting and splitting plants is also a great time to ferret out those pesky weeds and grasses that seem to find their way into the middle of our garden plants. Now that you have your lessons from this year firmly on the page, feel free to dream of how wonderful your garden will look with the new additions you find in the seed catalog.