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Arbor Day is the perfect time to evaluate your cottage gardens

This perennial cottage garden is just starting to come up for the season. With Arbor Day just around the corner this is the perfect time to evaluate which plants need some thinning and dividing.
This perennial cottage garden is just starting to come up for the season. With Arbor Day just around the corner this is the perfect time to evaluate which plants need some thinning and dividing. Stacy Stapels

Perennials are starting to poke their sleepy heads up through the ground and this is the perfect time to get out and evaluate your gardens. Although these plants are low maintenance, they do require thinning periodically to assure healthy and vibrant growth. Full, beautiful cottage yards are the envy of every neighborhood and with a little springtime effort your plants will look gorgeous for years to come. This also makes a good Arbor Day project you can share with your children or grandchildren and show them the joy of gardening!

First decide which plants will benefit from some thinning and dividing. Are certain areas being overrun with a particular plant? Perennials are an attractive choice to many cottage gardeners since they spread and multiply each year; but too often a persistent plant may become over-abundant and evade neighboring plant space. Are some plants looking unhealthy? As the new shoots emerge they may rob older plants from vital nutrients and water. You may notice that the center is dead; the stalks are weak, and there is a decrease in blooming.

Once you identify the plants to prune out you have several choices. If you have room you may want to transplant them to another area of your yard. Perhaps a neighbor has an area for them and in turn has some different plants and you can arrange a swap. Another enterprising idea is to check with your local farmers market, library or garden center. Perennial exchanges have become popular in many communities and are a cost effective way to gain new plants.

When you are ready to begin dividing, try to pick a cool cloudy day so the cuttings won’t dry out too quickly or become stressed. Dig up all or part of the plant and determine if the root system is loosely growing or clumped tightly together. If the roots are loose, gently pull them apart by hand. If the roots are growing in clumps tightly bound to each other, use a sharp knife to cut them. Whether you are pulling them apart or cutting them, your goal is to have some roots and foliage on each of the plant sections. Remove or trim away any dead areas. And don’t try to separate into too many small plants; a few larger clumps will do better when replanting.

After separating, it’s important to keep the roots moist and out of direct sunlight. If they are not immediately being replanted, temporarily put them in pot or tray covered with moist soil and mulch, or wrap the roots with layers of wet paper towels inside of a tightly wrapped plastic bag. The best solution is to replant them as quickly as possible, so if you are moving them to another area, or exchanging them for other plants, have your garden spot prepped and ready. And after relocating, just like any new planting, you’ll want to water them well cover the base with mulch to retain moisture.

On Saturday, May 12th 2012, the Flint Library will once again be having a Perennial Plant Exchange outside the library by the parking lot garage. Starting at 9:30 am (suggestion is to get there early) bring healthy cuttings or new plants to share and exchange with others, preferably labeled.The library main branch is located at 1026 E. Kearsley, Flint, MI 48503

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