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Dividing perennials, mowing grass

Plant sale May 1

By John Fulton

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[April 07, 2010]  A common maintenance chore in a perennial garden is that of dividing. There is no set rule as to when to divide perennials. Some may need division every three to five years, some after eight to 10 years, and some would rather you not bother them at all.

InsurancePerennials will send signals to let you know that they would like to be divided. The signals to watch out for include reduced flowering with the flowers getting smaller; the growth in the center of the plant dies out, leaving a hole with all the growth around the edges; plant loses vigor; plant starts to flop or open up, needing staking; or it just may have outgrown its bounds. These are the signs to look for and not a date on the calendar.

If division is indicated, spring is the preferred time to divide. Some fleshy, rooted perennials such as poppy, peony and iris are best divided in the late summer to very early fall.

Division is usually started when growth resumes in the spring. The process starts by digging around the plant and then lifting the entire clump out of the ground. Then, using a spade or sharp knife, start to cut up the clump so that each section is the size of a quart- or gallon-sized perennial.

Discard the old, dead center and trim off any damaged roots. The divisions should be kept moist and shaded while you prepare the new planting site. After replanting, water well and protect the divisions from drying out. Division is no more complicated than this. Some perennials may be more difficult to divide than others because of their very tenacious root system.

Division has as its primary goal the rejuvenation of the perennial planting so it can continue to perform the way it was intended. Many home gardeners have found that the process of division is more traumatic to the gardener than it is to the perennial.

Mowing time

The green grass beckons. Of course, once you start mowing, you get to keep on doing it. There is certainly enough moisture, so add a little bit of heat and we'll be hard-pressed to keep up this spring.

There are a few very simple rules for mowing grass. The first is to use equipment that is ready for the job. Make sure the mower has sharp blades. Dull blades will show up as injury on the grass blades, like brown tips and jagged edges. Blades can be sharpened in several ways. Using a file or grinder are the most common methods.

Next is the rule of one-third. Never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade at any one time. This rule must be followed if you don't want to catch or rake the grass. A good general mowing height for combination bluegrass and fine fescue is about 2 inches. This would mean that you would need to mow every time the grass reached 3 inches in height.

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Bagging grass clippings may actually add to the buildup of thatch -- that dead, matted layer on the soil surface. Thatch is broken down by microbes at the soil surface. Without a food source, the microbe numbers crash, and any clippings remain without breaking down. The variety of grass also has a lot to do with the thatching tendency.

Mulching is OK. It isn't a cure-all, and it does take quite a bit of extra power to accomplish.

The final word is that grass mowed on the one-third rule doesn't need to be caught or mulched. Bagging takes time and the clippings must then be disposed of. Mulching takes extra power and fuel.

Mowing intervals depend upon grass growth rather than a calendar schedule. The spring and fall periods will require more frequent mowing than during the summer. That is in a "normal" year. Mowing frequently really reduces the labor needed for overall operations.

Master Gardener Plant Sale

Many people have been asking about the Master Gardener Plant Sale for this year. It is scheduled for May 1 from 9 a.m. until noon in the Logan County Fair Special Events Building on the south end of the fairgrounds. They will have annuals, perennials, houseplants, heirloom tomatoes, peppers and a few other assorted items.

[By JOHN FULTON, University of Illinois Extension, Logan County]


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