Late February best time for transplanting
by Ronella Stager, Columnist
Feb 20, 2013 | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Since we are about to come into the busiest month of the year for gardeners, perhaps we should get back to gardening for a bit. We still have a few weeks left in which to prepare for this busy season. My favorite time of the year for transplanting almost anything in the garden has always been the last few weeks of February, the number one reason for that timing being that the roots of a transplanted perennial or shrub will have time to start to grow before hot weather. If you are starting a new perennial bed and want more plants, just go into a plant that is mature and cut out a half or a third, depending on the size of the perennial. The mother plant won’t know the difference and you have a new plant for that new bed. I have found that, when transplanting, it is a good idea to use the newer fertilizer pellets that work for several months. You put them in the bottom of the new hole you just dug for the new plant. If you have a compost pile, add some well rotted compost to the new hole for your plant. If you have enough compost, sprinkle some over the whole perennial bed.

I find that this time of year is particularly good for dividing day lilies and I do it the lazy gardener’s way: with a sharp shovel, dig straight down in the middle of the day lily, cutting it into halves or fourths or whatever size you decide on and just dig it up, roots, dirt and all and move to a new location. Day lilies are probably the backbone of any perennial garden and if you choose wisely, you can have blooms almost all summer.

Hopefully, you already have your perennials marked, and if not, now is the time. It’s also time to stake them as they are coming up. Or, heaven forbid, you can easily dig over a good plant before it looks like a plant. You should already have your stakes at the ready.

Most gardeners worry about a cold spell coming in late February when the roses are beginning to leaf out. You can rest easy because even a freeze isn’t going to hurt the rose plant. The leaves may turn black and drop but new ones will soon take their place. The same goes for all your perennials. That’s not true for the annuals, which you can’t resist in the stores at this time. It is far too early to plant those annuals because they, unlike the perennials, can’t stand a cold spell.

As soon as chrysanthemums start coming up, separate them into smaller clumps and plant them about 18 inches to 2 feet apart. Remember that this plant must have full sun. When they reach about five or six inches tall, start pinching out about an inch of each little branch. You need to do this about every two weeks till early July. This makes for a shorter, fuller plant that will be full of blooms in fall. Always water them thoroughly when you move them. I like to plant them in some out of the way place and then move them to the front of foundation plants or around a deck so the blooms will be seen. You can move them just as they start to have tiny buds. They are one tough plant and take easily to being moved as long as you water the holes well.

It would be hard to stress too much the importance of using compost on your spring perennial beds. The best method is to sprinkle, as generously as you can, the compost all over a bed and then, with a garden fork, punch holes all over the bed. I have a very old fork which was called a potato fork which, I assume, was for digging potatoes. I bought it at a sale in Minnesota. An old gardener friend sold all his tools and I was right there to buy several. I met this old Norwegian friend when we first moved to Northern Minnesota. He was my mentor and taught me the difference in gardening where the frost line goes so deep. Our house was set just a few feet from the Red River and the soil was unbelievably rich. I often wish I had that rich, black soil.

Be sure to pick up and burn all the dead blades of the iris. The iris borer, a deadly enemy of iris, will live in those dead leaves. Some iris growers go so far as to burn off the beds before the blades start coming up but I would never have the nerve and don’t suggest that you do.

I am sure that most, if not all, gardeners feel as I do: when spring is so near, it’s a great temptation to get out and dig in the dirt. But I remind you of the old saying that a gardener needs a strong back with a hinge in the middle.

Thanks for all the encouragement. This is the 100th column in the second series after I had to quit writing for a while. Please feel free to call me at 170-522-3632 with questions and/or comments to: Ronella Stagner, 137 Main Street, Cadiz, KY 42211.
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