Green thumb pointers to help your gardens thrive

By Daniel Adam
Staff Writer

Divide perennials

Perennial flowers appear at the same time every year, but after a few years of popping back up every spring, these plants may start to get smaller and weaker. This could mean it’s time to “divide” them to improve their performance.

According to the University of Minnesota (UMN), when perennials are divided, there’s more space for roots to grow since there’s less clustered competition to absorb nutrients and water. These divisions can help thin clump-forming varieties.

And because plants don’t always grow at the same rate, division can help keep the most gung-ho growers at bay. Not only that, but now you’ve got more flowers in your garden at no cost.

UMN gives the following tips for dividing perennials:

Divide on an overcast day. Avoid doing this on a hot sunny day since plants might dry out.

If the area your plants are in is dry, try watering it the day before.

To divide the plants, you can gently pull the roots apart by hand, or cut them with a spade or knife. Each divided section should have three to five solid shoots and a hearty set of roots.

Avoid dividing your perennials if they’re blooming — you want them to focus all their energy on taking root in a new place.

Divide fall-blooming plants in spring so they have the entire growing season to recover before winter. Divide spring and summer-blooming perennials in fall, but make sure to leave about 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes so your plants can properly take root.

Reuse potting soil

So long as what you were growing in it was healthy, reusing potting soil can be a great cost-effective tip.

If your soil was nurturing a plant that seemed unhealthy, it’s best to sterilize it before reusing it. Start by removing any debris like roots or leaves. Then you can choose from one of Better Homes & Gardens’ recommended methods of sterilizing.

One option is called solarizing. Put the soil in a lidded container or black garbage bag, then leave it out in the sun for 4-6 weeks. The heat will kill any remaining bugs or pathogens.

In a similar method, try putting the soil in a pan, covering it with foil, and sticking it in the oven for a half hour around 180-200 F. Anything higher might mean the soil releases toxins. Once finished, keep it covered until it’s cooled.

Finally, you could also try microwaving it. Cover the soil with a microwave-safe lid that you can poke holes in. Heat it at full power for a minute and a half for every two pounds of material. Make sure to cover the holes in the lid while it cools, and don’t use the soil while it’s still hot.

You can choose to combine your old soil with some new, so that the collective nutrients are in better shape. Some gardeners recommend using the soil just in the bottom of a planter. You can also mix it into your compost pile.

Keep loved ones close

If you have an outdoor garden, consider placing your most prized plants close to your house. That way, you get to look at them often, and you’ll be reminded to water them.

If you grow vegetables, then they’ll also be close to home when you want to harvest some for a meal!

Another convenient tip is to keep garden tools handy. If you leave a spare set of tools near your home’s entryway, you won’t need to go and open up the shed every time you spot a weed that needs to be dealt with.