Hand-me-down plants can brighten a garden

August 15, 2012
Hostas can be divided and shared with fellow gardeners in August and early September.

It is August, and it’s back to school with every younger child’s bane: perfectly fine clothing - perhaps slightly used or slightly out-of-style argyle sweaters.  Whether it is a pass-along or a hand-me-down, getting something from a friend or family member can also make the object at hand even more valuable. Pass-along plants become the base of a true friendship garden, where every plant has a story.  

For gardeners, a pass-along plant can be something you do not need, but someone else might.  Because many spring-blooming plants like peonies and coral bells are dormant, August is the best month to divide them and share your plants with friends. August and early September is the time for dividing aubrietia, bleeding heart, candytuft, hosta, snow-on-the-mountain, primroses, Christmas roses, peonies and bearded iris.

Late summer means warm soil and full sun, so if you keep everything well watered, your new transplants can develop a fine root system before winter. Almost all of your newly divided plants will flower next year.

Prepare the soil where you will be planting the new divisions before you start dividing the perennials. Till the soil deeply and add in compost.  Remove any weeds. Dig out far enough from the base of the plant to get as many of the roots as you can without breaking them.

Shake off as much soil as you can.  You can even use a garden hose to wash the soil off the roots.   Use care so you do not damage the fine roots.

Plant the divided plants firmly in the ground to get rid of air spaces. Water immediately and mulch the new plants to retain moisture. Keep a bucket of water close by to soak the plant divisions.

Cut off any broken roots. This root pruning encourages growth of fibrous feeder roots. If the plants still have a lot of foliage, prune some of the leaves after planting to cut down on water loss through the leaves.

Plant coral bells, peonies and iris slightly below soil level. The eyes or buds of peonies must be less than an inch deep or the plant will not bloom. Peonies often will not bloom for several years after transplanting. Other perennials should be planted at the same depth they were growing before.

Iris are treated a bit differently when they need to be divided. Wait until your bearded iris are finished blooming. Cut all the firm, young root pieces (called rhizomes) away from any older, soft pieces. Clip iris leaves to a fan shape about one-third of their prior height. Replant these new, young rhizomes in full sun.

To make a gift of your transplants, let the new gardener know you have a live fragile plant to pass along.  Pot up the transplant in loose soil, water well, and bring it immediately to the new gardener.

With luck, constant watering and perhaps some organic fertilizer next spring, your pass-along plants will be off and running in their new home.  In just three seasons, your dormant, scraggly gift will bloom in a distant garden.  Your plants will have gone from drought of August to snow of January to spring floods of April. Your hand-me-down plants may spark memories of old friends, older brothers and argyle sweaters.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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