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Divide and Conquer!

Polly's Planting and Plucking

JW: Hooray, let's give ourselves a pat on the back! We've taken good care of our gardens this season, and the plants are thriving, really thriving. I'm Judy Wagley, This is “From the Ground Up!” Kim Buntin is the owner of Polly's Planting and Plucking in Harbor Springs. And she says now is the perfect time to divide and conquer. Thanks for joining me today, Kim.

Kim Buntin is the owner of Polly's Planting and Plucking in Harbor Springs.
Photo Courtesy: Polly's Planting and Plucking
Polly's Planting and Plucking
Kim Buntin is the owner of Polly's Planting and Plucking in Harbor Springs.

KB: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me, Judy.

JW: Kim, many folks consider springtime or maybe the month of May to be the most important time for gardening. But you say that right now, early September, may be the best time to get things done out there in the garden.

KB: I couldn't agree more Judy. We feel that September is absolutely the stellar, strongest month in perennial gardening to fix things or replace things, or divide and rearrange your garden, because you can see all of it in its full glory. Whereas in the spring, things aren't awake yet. And you forget--gardeners as a group, we are very hopeful. And we mentioned that you can see the good, the bad and the in between in September. And at the same time, the weather is getting cooler and a little bit wetter typically, and the days are getting shorter. So it's a nice time to be digging and moving plants around. And they're not required to be doing so many other jobs that they start out in the spring such as growing or trying to set their bloom.

JW: Yes, as you mentioned, now we can see things in their full glory. Kim, what plants can and should be divided?

KB: Well, I'll start off with some of the plants that are typically sold to beginning gardeners especially as being the easiest plants to grow. That usually means that they would thrive with or without much attention. And they tend to be the plants that are on the little more aggressively expanding or growing type of choices. I might give an example of a daisy, or I would say Nepeta which is a flowering catmint. Those plants tend to outgrow their spaces, typically within two seasons.

JW: Why is it important to divide our plants?

KB: Well, it keeps your garden healthier to not have things so close together that it becomes quite a full vegetative area with not allowing winds and breezes to pass through. And the foliage can become a little less healthy because there's not airflow to dry off the leaves. And you might see the beginning of leaf spots or a bit of disease. And it makes it much easier to work in for access to things without having to sort of thrash your way through. And lastly, from an aesthetic standpoint, when you create gardens, you typically make drifts of color that come and go, versus a garden full of individual single plants. And those drifts over time become small walls, or very big groups, that upsets the balance of the overall look.

JW: So along with divide and conquer, we can also divide and multiply those plants?

KB: You can multiply—absolutely. Share with friends or create new areas or move certain plants around and have more of things that really work or sing for you. And you can just sort of look at it like window dressing, where you're redoing the design with plants that you have without having to go back to the garden center, although I encourage you to do that frequently

JW: When should we take on this project? Right now?

KB: I really like doing it any time of the month. But the earlier you do-- the farther north especially-- the earlier in the month that you get this project under way and the plants replanted. They have that many more weeks to root in and be ready for next year like it never happened. Before the really cold temperatures sort of tell plants to go dormant.

JW: Kim, can you take us step by step on how to divide a plant.

KB: Absolutely. To start off is to lift the entire plant out of the ground mostly. And that's usually done with a sharp round-pointed shovel, but we also are big fans of a border fork which is a short fork with flat tines, and we like having two on hand and I'll get back to that in a minute. But if you go all the way around the plant and lift the entire plan out of the ground, then you work with the dividing of it either by a sharp shovel or the forks as I mentioned, where you put them back-to-back in the center of the plant, and then pry the handles apart. It teases the roots apart rather than severing them, and it becomes even less of a transplant shock issue for any plant. And you break them into the sizes-- we typically say for you—a dinner plate size is a great division to replant that has plenty of root systems. And we reset it in the ground a little bit deeper than it was when you dug it out where it's often level in the beds. So you create a little bit of a lower area, a saucer around the plant, when you're resetting it. That gives you a great way to add adequate water if you need to water, as they will be fragile for the first couple of weeks, if the rainy season doesn't do it for us. By the end of a hose or even a sprinkler, it allows the water to collect around those roots and sink in and soak in without it falling away in the surface-- looking wet, but below the ground, not really getting thoroughly moistened.

JW: Kim, those are some really great tips. What else do we need to get to?

KB: Well, if you're thinking about moving shrubbery, this is a great time of the year to start the project but not finish it per se. But if you were to go around, say a foot or two around a flowering shrub, let's pick a hydrangea. If you wanted to move it, it's in full leaf and it's a big plant. If you root prune with a shovel all the way around the plant a bit out from around the edge of its drip edge, or as much as you can-- imagine lifting and you go all the way around. At this time of the year, it will damage the roots a bit but it encourages them to grow many more feeder roots inside of that zone. And in the spring when it's dormant, it won't even notice what you're doing. You lift it and move it. There's many more feeder roots existing for that plant and you can see much better when there's no leaves on the shrub and you can move it doing the same process I talked about, giving it a bit of a well and water in it and it will wake up from dormancy in its new spot and not have any struggle succeeding the next season.

JW: Thank you so much for all of that Kim. So it is September, and the gardening season is not over! We will encourage folks to get out there and divide and conquer and keep going in the garden.

KB: I like it!

JW: Kim Buntin from Polly's Planting and Plucking in Harbor Springs. Thanks for joining me today for “From the Ground Up!”

KB: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me.

Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.