Horticulture Magazine recently reminded me that fall is a good time to divide perennials to fill in some bare spots or share with friends and neighbors. It is best to divide perennials in the season in which they are not blooming so that they can put their energy into roots and foliage, not flowers.
This fall, divide spring and early summer bloomers. In spring, divide the late summer and fall bloomers. Keep the divisions good size, not too small, and keep them watered. If we are still having hot sunny days (let’s hope not), you may want to shade them with row covers, sheets, cardboard or shade cloth, especially during the hours from 10 to 3 or 4.
While you’re at it, you can divide and conquer. Add those divided early bloomers into your late-bloomer patches to add longer interest. The same goes for tall divisions added to the back of beds and the shorter ones to the front. Also, by moving, divisions around you can add the element of repetition to the overall effect. Just remember to plant the same plant in odd-numbered groups, starting with three.
If you have a lot of divisions, try planting them in drifts, long undulating strips of the same plant woven through a bed. These techniques make for a more interesting garden and one that has something blooming all season long.
Did some of your spring bulbs produce more foliage than blooms? If the cause was overcrowding, divide them. If the cause was too much shade from growing trees or shrubs, move them. Now is the time, if you can find them. One exception to the divide opposite the time of bloom rule is Resurrection lilies or Surprise lilies (Lycoris squamigera).
You can transplant and divide them after the flowers fade. Dig bulbs, discard rotted or damaged ones. Plant in a sunny, well-drained spot at the same depth you found them, usually three times the height of the bulb.
September also divides summer from fall. Sept. 22 this year was the Autumnal Equinox, the day when we have equal periods of daylight and night, the first day of autumn. This year, the full moon on September 20 was the harvest moon as it is the closest full moon to the equinox.
The shortened length of daylight will eventually cause the change of color in the leaves of trees and shrubs. That length of daylight will continue to shrink until the leaves fall later next month when the stem (petiole) of the leaf divides from the twig.
Things to do in the garden:
As annual plants die, consider leaving them in the garden. If they are in the vegetable garden, pull them up. If perennials, you may want their winter interest or to preserve them for overwintering pollinator eggs, larvae, pupae or cocoons. Dispose of non-diseased debris in a “hot” compost heap, bury them or put them in the trash.
In the butterfly garden, leave the host plants as they are harboring the overwintering eggs and larvae of next year’s butterflies. Those plants that you don’t want to re-seed, remove the seed heads before their seeds are scattered. Or, leave them for the birds. Clean up old fruit from around fruit trees.
If you collect, dry and store seeds for next year, use only heirloom varieties, hybrids will not grow true. Harvest and cure winter squash and gourds if they are ready. Leave a two-inch stem. Gourds should be finished with growth before you cut them from the vine, store indoors at 60 degrees.
September is the best time to plant grass seed, whether you are re-seeding, patching or establishing a new lawn. If you only fertilize your lawn once a year, fall is the best time to do it. Cooler, wetter fall weather promotes good root growth and your grass will start out next spring healthier.
Fertilize in September and then again around Thanksgiving. Read directions for amounts and settings on application equipment. You might also want to consider shrinking your lawn to save on fertilizer and mowing costs.
In those areas that are not to be fall planted, plant a cover crop or “green manure” that will be turned in in the spring. Buckwheat, annual rye, sweet clover, winter barley, wheat, soybeans, alfalfa and hairy vetch make good green manures.
Now is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs. A good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs at a depth about three times the height of the bulb. Most spring flowering bulbs look best planted in a group, not in single file. Plant in a triangle, with the point facing the viewer, for most impact.
Planting irises and peonies this fall takes advantage of the warm earth. They should be planted about two-inches deep. If your peonies haven’t bloomed well because of shade from nearby competing trees, now is a good time to move them to a sunnier place in the yard.
Watch for yellowing of gladiolus leaves. Dig the corms and hang until the tops turn brown. Then store in a cool, not freezing, well-ventilated basement or garage. Do the same with caladium, cannas and dahlias when their tops turn brown. Fall is a good time to divide Lily of the Valley, primroses, peonies, day lilies, coral-bells and bleeding heart. Adding bulb food and humus will be rewarded in the spring.
You can plant onion seed now for early green onions and bulbs. Yes, onions are bulbs. You can still plant cool season vegetables. It’s not too late to start beets, carrots, kale and lettuce, maybe even bush beans! If you have row covers, or can make them, you can have these for Thanksgiving dinner. This assumes we don’t have a hard freeze. If we do, prepare to cover the plants. Order garlic bulbs now for planting later.
Now is a good time to test your soil. The prescribed amendments will have time to work their way into the soil and be available to the plants for the next growing season. Information on soil testing is available at the OSU Extension Office as well as the Helpline at 740- 474-7534 for general questions.
This article was written by Paul J. Hang to be published in The Circleville Herald. Hang is an OSU Extension Master Gardener. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.